Tritons finally ready for home opener

The Iowa Central baseball team returns a talented group of sophomores from a 39-win 2012 campaign, and the Tritons have fared well mixing in the new faces already this season.

After coming up short in the Region XI Tournament last spring, 11th-year head coach Rick Pederson and Iowa Central have their sights set on a fifth NJCAA Div. II World Series berth later this spring.

The Tritons (14-7 overall) have battled Mother Nature to start the season in Iowa, as late snow and cold temperatures have forced cancellations and postponements. The squad is currently ranked sixth in the latest poll.

“It’s just been one of those years,” Pederson said. “The weather always seems to play a factor in the early going.”

Since taking over the program from Rick Sandquist in 2003, Pederson has compiled a 410-194-1 record (entering the year), which includes five seasons of 40-plus victories and a national runner-up finish in 2003.

“It’s been a lot less of a growing period so far,” Pederson said. “We kind of expected that with as many returning sophomores as we have. This group is filled with excellent leadership and a strong work ethic on the diamond and in academics.”

Dan Potempa returns after leading the Tritons in hitting last year at a .358 clip. He hit three home runs and drove in 38, along with recording 18 doubles.

Justin Threlkeld joins in as a key returnee after hitting .327 with three homers, three triples and 38 runs scored.

“I thought our offense might be a little further along in terms of hitting, but some of that might have to do with playing so many games in cold weather.”

Dawson Porter, Zak Leighton, Dalton Parrott and Spencer Mallonee hit above .267 a season ago as freshman, and all four played in at least 48 games.

“We have six returning offensive players, and they all have done a great job,” Pederson said. “We have drawn as many walks as strikeouts, which has helped our on-base percentage. And we’ve been running the bases very well.”

The pitching staff is anchored by former Fort Dodge Senior High standout Will Kenny. After going 5-2 with a 3.75 earned run average last year, Kenny has posted a 4-1 record with 19 strikeouts through six games this season, allowing just six earned runs.

Kenny had 59 strikeouts to lead the team as a freshman, and has signed to attend the University of Iowa in the fall.

“Will is not only a very talented kid, he is highly competitive and has been through the rigors of both high school games and as a freshman here,” Pederson said. “He is sure fun to watch pitch, and really fun to have on our side.”

Nolan Webster is also back after winning five games. He had 23 strikeotus and a 4.10 ERA. Vinny Crivaro made 13 appearances last year, sporting a 2.00 ERA and picking up two saves.

Brandon Shulista went 4-0, making four starts and appearing in four other games. He had a 2.27 ERA with 35 strikeouts.

Freshman Alex Hayden and Tyler Peyton have been strong in the early going.

Peyton has also been a strong hitter for the Iowa Central offense, as have classmates Christian Abilla, Andy De Jesus, Nate Steger and ex-Dodger Will Gormally.

“Tyler is just an extremely talented two-way player,” Pederson said. “I felt like he was the best high school player in the state of Iowa last year; there really isn’t a lot he can’t do on a baseball field.

“Christian and Nate both come from strong programs and have had good runs in the early going, along with Luke Vandermaten.”

Peyton has 23 strikeouts in 24 innings, allowing just six earned runs and 11 hits. He is also the leading hitter at .360 with five doubles and three steals.

Pederson is assisted by Justin Meyer, Eric Stein and Sean O’Brien.