LEROY — Pine River's baseball team contains many of the same athletes that played for the Bucks Highland Conference and district-title winning basketball squad.

It's small wonder, then, that the Bucks baseball team is expected to do very well this spring.

If the weather permits, the Bucks were scheduled to play Wednesday (March 27) at Vestaburg. If not, the season will open in early April once the team returns from the holiday break.

Coach Shawn Ruppert expects to have a team that can compete against perennial power Beal City in the Highland and then make a healthy run in the postseason.

“We have a lot of starters back. I think we'll be solid again,” Ruppert said. “I think we're looking to make the next step. We've won districts, we need to win regionals. It's been awhile since we've done that.”

Ruppert said he'll have about 12 players on his team.

Devin Ruppert is back as catcher and pitcher while Lincoln Erickson returns as pitcher and first baseman. Both are seniors while junior Skyler Nelson returns at shortstop and leadoff hitter. Joe Gingrich returns at second base along with Tyler Lewis at third base and Brandon Hoaglund in center field.

A year ago in late March, Pine River and other baseball teams were outside practicing and getting ready for the season. Because they've been confined to indoors this year, Nelson acknowledged it will take awhile for his team and others to get into the baseball groove.

“Probably it won't be until after spring break,” he said

One advantage of staying inside, Ruppert indicated, is having more emphasis on fundamentals.

Nelson, a junior, is in his third varsity season. He'll be playing shortstop and will also see some time at  pitcher.

“We won the district championship last year and hopefully we can repeat that again this year, Nelson said. “We're pretty solid again this year.”

After Nelson and others on the basketball team ended their hoops season and went in the baseball routine, they've been inside working on various aspects of their game.

“We're working on situations the best we can inside,” Nelson said. Nelson said he'll serve as a spot pitcher working with others in a role supplementing No. 1 and 2 pitcher Lincoln Erickson and Devin Ruppert.

Nelson batted around .390 last season but said he slumped to some extent late in the season. At shortstop Nelson takes pride in his arm.

“I need to stay focused,” he said. “I think we'll have a good year. We can beat (Beal City) this year. Hopefully we can win the conference title.”

“(Beal City) they're beatable every year,” Shawn Ruppert said. “Last year we should have beaten them and didn't. We just have to execute because they're always going to be solid. They're going to play smart baseball.”

Pitching and defense will be strengths, Ruppert said.