When the pandemic brought sports to a halt last spring, Jeremy Dunnihoo started a group chat with his players.
The Stoughton High School baseball coach sought to keep the team connected during a time of mask wearing and social distancing. The chat was meant to be about all things regarding America’s pastime.
But when the season was officially canceled, it became obvious that the players were hurt greatly by the loss, he told the Hub. Baseball was no longer what players wanted to converse about.
But Dunnihoo said their excitement has returned as his players prepare for their first baseball game in nearly two years on Tuesday, April 26.
“You can kind of see a very different mindset and very different conversations from what we were having last spring,” he said. “Last year there was this waiting and waiting, like, is it gonna happen? Is it gonna happen? And now, it’s really happening.”
As for what people can expect from this year’s team, Dunnihoo said to expect the unexpected.
“This is the great unknown as far as our season goes.” he said, pointing to freshmen playing on the big field for the first time and only having two seniors return with experience.
One thing that has become clear is the team can rely on its pitchers, because multiple players can take the mound.
In the Wisconsin spring where weather can cancel games and Stoughton may have to tackle back-to-backs occasionally, that’s especially helpful, Dunnihoo said.
“I think we have a lot of guys who can pitch, which is always great…. but especially this year where some guys haven’t picked up a baseball a whole lot in the last 18 to 20 months. But we do have a lot of guys who have experience pitching and can pitch,” he said.
Scoring runs may come with a learning curve for his inexperienced group, the coach said. The team may have to balance a more aggressive style of baserunning to make sure they get within scoring range on offense, he said.
Dunnihoo said his team likely won’t be a big hitting team, and doubles and home runs could be hard to come by. He thinks Stoughton will have to rely more on smart trips to the plate.
Dunnihoo said despite the changes, two players have stepped up to lead the team into the unknown in seniors Connor Blaney, a pitcher, and Nolan Carpenter, the team’s catcher.
“(He is a) good ballplayer,” Dunnihoo said of Blaney. “Good all-around player, he pitches, plays the field, he can hit. He’ll be definitely one of our leaders, not only performance-wise, but definitely as far as leadership goes,” he said.
Carpenter, a catcher, also has his coach excited, thanks to his “grit” and ability to lead players through tough situations.
The team has a quick turnaround from its season opener on Tuesday, visiting the same Monroe team on Thursday, April 29.