Havre Daily News Sports Editor
No coach ever feels like their team is completely ready for the first game of the season.
Yep, even a veteran coach like Mickey Williams. Even though he's been coaching the Havre Northstars longer than most of his players have been alive, Williams would be the first to admit that another week of practice would be beneficial for his young team.
But unless the weather is uncooperative, the Northstars won't get that extra week of practice and instead open their 2005 season on Sunday, when they host the Great Falls Electrics at 1 p.m. at Legion Field.
"It's gotten here pretty fast," Williams said. "I hope we are ready. I would love another week of practice to polish up some things. But you have to play that first game eventually. I don't know if you're ever completely ready for the first game."
For many of the players, Sunday won't only be the first game of the season, but also their first game as a Northstar.
Gone are several players from last year's squad that won the Northern District regular season and tournament titles, while finishing fourth at the Class A state tournament. In their place will be several 17-year-olds from last year's Havre Comet squad that finished 13-35.
"We're definitely in a bit of a rebuilding stage," Williams said. "We had a lot of 18- and 19-year-olds last season. This year we only have a handful."
Havre suffered wholesale losses to its pitching staff and its offensive production.
The Northstars five quality pitchers in Brandon Morse, Bret Magelssen, Cory Junck, Trent Normandy and Ian Spencer. The five pitchers combined for more than half of the Northstars wins and 70 percent of the innings pitched.
"We lost a lot of very good and experienced pitchers," Williams said. "We have some solid young kids coming back. But we won't be quite as deep as a staff."
The Northstars' staff will be anchored by second-year player Chase Castloo, who returns as Havre's ace. Castloo won nine games last season and was knittable at times with a powerful fastball and solid changeup.
"We need Chase to be a leader for us," Williams said. "He's going to have to pitch a lot of innings against some good teams."
Also returning are relievers Jeff Tibbals and Ben Erickson. Both pitched sparingly last year, but their innings will increase this season.
Joining the staff are Comets' Sean Peterson, Austin Small and John Christian.
"We are need to have some kids step up and show us that they can throw strikes," Williams said. "The kids coming up pitched a lot of innings last year, and they need to build off that. They've looked pretty good early."
The Northstars weren't just hit hard in the pitching department. After hitting a gaudy .356 as a team last year, Havre loses four of its top five hitters. Daine Solomon, Spencer, Normandy and Jordon Patterson are all gone from last season. Solomon led the team in average and was second in runs scored, while Spencer and Normandy combined to drive more than 120 RBIs.
Returning to lead the Northstars offensive attack is centerfielder/catcher Patch Wirtzberger.
Wirtzberger batted a shade under .400 and scored a team-high 79 runs. He hit's the ball over the park and has good speed when he is on the base path.
"We're expecting a lot from Patch in terms of offensive production and leadership," Williams said. "He plays two of the positions that demand him to be a leader."
Williams is also expecting production from Castloo, Tibbals, Erickson and Eric Fanning. Castloo can play a little outfield and third base and has shown glimpses of power. Tibbals played a variety of positions, but will spend a lot of time at either second or short and is a solid contact hitter. Erickson will handle first base duties and was a solid hitter last season. Fanning played third and second and was a solid contact and situational hitter for the Northstars.
"Those kids all played plenty of innings last season," Williams said. "They know what we expect as a team."
Even with the returnees, that still leaves several positions open for younger players to step in. Small and Peterson will fight for time at the middle infield positions, while Jess McLain has recovered from off season knee surgery and could see time at first base.
Vying for playing time in the outfield are Scott Ladenburg, Bryden Vukasin, Josh Lowe and Christian.
Besides Wirtzberger, Josh Morse, who caught the bulk of the Comet games last season and Lowe and Mike Olson should share the catching duties.
"This is a lot different situation than in the past," Williams said. "We have more 17-year-olds that are going to be playing than we've had in the past. There are going to be few mistakes along the way."
Williams expects typical first-game miscues on Saturday against an Electrics squad that should be solid.
"We're starting off against a very good team," he said. "I don't expect us to be perfect. There are going to be some mistakes. The big thing is that we learn from them."