Strong infield looks to carry junior 17ers

By Brady Bauman

With six returning players, the American Legion Manhattan Manko junior 17ers hope to have a solid foundation this summer.

The 17ers open their season this weekend with the Tournament of Champions in Manhattan.

But due to the NCAA regional at Tointon Family Stadium, all of the Legion tournament games have been moved to Norvell Field. The 17ers are set to play two games Friday — assuming the fields are dry enough — beginning at 2:15 p.m. against the Kansas Mudcats and then again at 6:30 p.m. against the Salina Hawks.

Manhattan will be led by third-year coach Dan Rumsey.

Rumsey said the returners will be key in setting the pace for the new players this summer.

“They know my expectations and they are going to be my leadership,” Rumsey said this week. “They’ll show the new guys how to play the game and how I want them to go about their business.

“We’re not the biggest or the strongest, but I feel like we have a very solid defense, especially in the infield.”

Returners Luke Stegeman, Eric Prockish, Jake Olsen, Ian Hart, Isaac Leon and Grant Urban will all be juniors in the fall.

“All of them are really fundamentally sound,” Rumsey said. “There are a few we’ll have to polish up, but everybody has a couple specific talents that we can use on the field and win games with, so it’s really exciting to get back to work with these guys.”

Olsen looks to be the 17ers’ starting center fielder and Leon is expected to head up the pitching staff.

“Jake has really improved since last year, so I’m expecting some good things,” Rumsey said. “And Isaac had a good season (on the mound) for us last year.”

Rumsey, a former Kansas State baseball player who was a part of the 2009 team that made the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, said the transition from player to coach continues in his third year.

“Still in the transition of being more of a coach than a player,” he said. “I used to get caught up a bunch in the emotions and drama of the game, so this summer I’m really going to concentrate on being a motivator and being positive in the dugout.

“Being a motivator, staying positive and looking toward the next pitch, instead of what just happened (is important) and something I’ll be working on.”

Rumsey said there is not much pressure going into this weekend’s tournament, but a lot can be learned.

“I’m not really expecting a whole lot since we just now put these guys together,” he said. “Our first practice was Monday. But I’ve been telling them to go out there and have fun, stay fundamentally sound and don’t worry about the outcome.

“Of course, we’re out there trying to win a game, but don’t dwell on something if it doesn’t go our way. I told them it will be a continuous tryout and that I’m going to be moving players in and out and trying to get a lineup set. It’s going to be a fun weekend. We’re excited about it.”

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