HIBBING — Last season, the Hibbing Community College baseball team made it to the Regional Tournament, but lost two games in a row.
This season, Cardinal manager Dave Bevacqua is hoping to improve upon that result.
Hibbing might just be able to do that as Bevacqua has an experienced team back in the fold, with depth in the pitching department.
The Cardinals finished 1-10 on their southern trip, but for the most part, Hibbing was competitive in every game.
The Cardinals will take the field again today when they take on Mesabi Range in a noon contest at Northwestern College in St. Paul.
“It’s always a goal to get to that regional tournament,” Bevacqua said. “You want to win your division, but getting to the regional is a goal for our team, just because you know all of the teams that are there are at that next level.
“You want to see if you’re there. It was a good opportunity for us.”
And a good opportunity for the 10 sophomores who got to participate in the two games, including Sammy Rivera, Kennie Rivera, Chanler Dilday, Dylan Montagna, Braydon Borg, Evan Jerome, Damon Wagner, Jordan Perez, Jaiman Lamphere and Yazniel Ojeda.
“It’ gives them the opportunity to have another goal and tell the young guys what it was like to play there,” Bevacqua said. “We need leadership out of them. They’ve played at this level before. They understand what it’s like to compete with the teams in this conference.
“The things we tried to emphasize in Florida is the teams we played, they would be the upper-echelon teams here. It’s not just a matter of winning this division. We want to get to the regional tournament and compete at that level, but you can’t take things for granted.”
Bevacqua saw that experience shine in Florida.
“We didn’t have a great record, but we played some good teams,” he said. “In the past, we’ve come back from those games having lost 20-0 and getting no-hit. That wasn’t the case. We had one game where we gave up 15 runs, but everything else was competitive.
“Even the ball games that did get away from us, it was one big inning that was the difference. That was encouraging.”
The Cardinals’ freshmen class consists of some talented players as well.
“We’ve got a good freshmen group,” Bevacqua said. “That’s where we’re getting our pitching depth.
Bevacqua and his assistant coaches, Bob DeNucci and Louis Aguinaga, did find out that they do have some pitching depth on the team.
“It’s better this year than it has been in the past, which, hopefully, will carry us quite a ways,” Bevacqua said. “We don’t have anyone overpowering. We don’t have anyone that’s blowing anybody away, but the depth allows us to, if someone is struggling, get them out of the game and get someone else in there.
“That will be the thing that’s hopeful for our pitching staff.”
Defensively, Hibbing is strong up the middle with Lamphere and Derrick Calvillo at catcher, Sammie Rivera and Dilday at shortstop and second base, respectively, and Jerome in centerfield.
The outfield does need a little work, however.
“We’re not as strong in the outfield as we’d like to be,” Bevacqua said. “Last year, we were fast. We could run. This year, we don’t have quite that same speed. Offensively, I’m hoping we can make up that difference.”
With Lamphere and Calvillo, the Cardinals will be strong behind the plate.
“I thought Jaiman was the best defensive catcher in our conference last year,” Bevacqua said. “We added Derrick, and he was the National Player of the Week after we got back from Florida. It wasn’t just his offense. He played well defensively. Now I’m thinking we have the two best catchers in the conference.”
Offensively, Bevacqua believes this team will score some runs.
“We swing the bat well,” Bevacqua said. “We can be strong all of the way through the lineup. Some guys, coming off of that spring trip, get exposed a little bit. They aren’t quite as strong as they thought they might be, but we tell them to not be discouraged by that.
“We have guys that have had terrible Florida trips, then end up being all-conference players because they take off.”
Hibbing will get its runs through power, not small ball.
“I don’t like to bunt much,” Bevacqua said. “We’re not a bunting team. We’re a team that suits my style, swinging the bat more to score runs. Hit-and-run, fine, but I don’t like the bunting part of the game.
“I’ll try to stack the top of our lineup to get on base, then the center part of the lineup can drive in runs. With this lineup, even the bottom half has a good opportunity to drive in some runs.”
With all of that said, how will Hibbing do this season? Last year, the Cardinals needed some help to get into the regional. This year, Bevacqua is hoping his team can take care of business on it’s own.
“The conference is strong this year,” Bevacqua said. “Last year, we got in as the No. 3 team in our division. I don’t know if the No. 3 team in our division is going to get in there this year. We’ll have to finish in the top two in order to get to the regional.
“We have a legitimate shot at being in the top two. I would be disappointed if we don’t.”