Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta baseball opens up the season Tuesday, April 11 under new management. The Tigers begin a rebuilding phase after graduating eight of nine defensive starters along with the retirement of head coach Mark Torgerson and longtime JV and assistant coach Jim Greenwaldt.

Kirby Sayles was hired to take over the program as head coach. He leads a program of nearly 80 athletes in grades 7-12. Sayles will be assisted by JV coach Joe Boedigheimer and ninth grade coach Tallack Dosdall. Don Goracke, Lyle Rambow, and Jarrod Asmus will also be helping out with the senior high program.

"We have a large group of seniors and junior high boys," Sayles said. "It's been great to have Don and Jarrod to work with our pitchers, kids are excited and they should be. I believe we are going to have good seasons at all levels."

Though it's Sayles' first season as head coach, he is very familiar with this year's senior class, which includes his younger brother and only returning defensive starter in senior Toby Sayles.

"I have coached a lot of these kids in the past and have watched them grow up, many of them have spent time at my parent's house," Sayles said. "This group has a lot of fun, but they know how to compete. They can be joking around, but once drills start, it's business. They are hard workers that already understand how that work translates into success. There is a reason they have had so much success in their other sports this year. Their leadership, drive, and attitude combined with their talent is something special that you don't get to see that often."

Sayles was involved in the Morris/C-A softball program the past two years. He has also coached VFW in the summer for the past two seasons.

"We have an incredibly successful softball program, and I feel like I learned a lot from coach Holmberg and coach Asche," Sayles said. "I have been coaching summer baseball for awhile and felt like it was a good time to make a switch with two veteran coaches leaving the program. Being able to coach my younger brother in his senior year was a draw as well. I think our baseball program has been consistently good for a long time, mainly because of our great youth programs and excellent head coaches, so I'm really hoping to keep that consistency and maybe bring in some extra energy."

Along with Toby Sayles, other players to watch on the hill this year include senior Ryan Bowman, Parker Dierks, and Chandler Vogel. Behind them, senior Chase Metzger will be the general in the outfield.

"We are going to need a lot of key players to step up this year, losing 8-of-9 defensive starters. We are excited to see who is going to step up and take these spots," Sayles said. "Toby will once again be key as a pitcher, catcher and infielder. I've always admired his leadership qualities on the field as well as his fantastic feel of the game. Chase Metzger is another that you will see a lot of outstanding catches from in the outfield. Chase is unbelievably fast and makes outstanding reads on fly balls. He is coming off of a great Legion season followed by two other successful sports seasons [this school year]. Ryan Bowman is a senior to watch. He is an athlete that has a great attitude. You can put him anywhere in the infield and he will make plays for you. We also have great juniors competing for spots. Parker Dierks is an awesome catcher and pitcher. I absolutely love his competitiveness. Chandler Vogel is another junior that we need to be a shutdown pitcher for us, he throws hard and has continued to develop over the years."

Offensively, the Tigers return designated hitter Ryan Dietz. He batted a .300 average in 2016 in the 22 games he appeared in, which is the best average returning this season. Toby Sayles also started offensively and had five stolen bases on the season last year, second most on the team.

"This group is very fast, and I truly think we are going to be great on the bases," Sayles said. We have worked hard on a consistent approach to hitting. We have been talking about backing up hits with hits and not trying to put it over the fence every time. Once we get a guy a base, our job immediately becomes to do whatever we can to get him across the plate and I think our kids have been doing a good job of understanding that."

As far as competition goes, BOLD will continue to be a powerhouse and build on its past success this year. The entire West Central Conference will be tough, Sayles said.

"Our conference this year is very competitive. Truly there isn't a team that is a pushover," Sayles said. "Our section is going to be just as tough as our conference. It seems like we always meet up with Minnewaska somewhere along the way and it's usually a tight game. Paynesville is always well coached and New London-Spicer is consistently a team we battle with. That being said, we can contend with anyone. Like I said before, these kids know how to compete and they understand how to get the success they want. I would love to see us battling for a top spot in our section. A major part of it is going to be how well our pitching can dominate opponents. Losing an entire varsity lineup, may make others think we will have a down year, but I think we are going to be a great team with a ton of talent."

The Tigers open the 2017 season against Montevideo Tuesday, April 11, and A-C-GC Thursday, April 13. Both games are at 5 p.m. at Chizek Field in Morris.