After an 11-11 regular season and a state run that ended with two losses in the tournament last year, the Rugby High School baseball team is hitting the field today for the first games of a new season.
At the Shiloh Christian Jamboree in Bismarck, the Greg Foster and Kendall Schieve-coached Panthers will expect to see teams like the Kidder County Pirates and the Midkota-Dakota Prairie-Lakota Mustangs from Region 3, the Bishop Ryan Lions out of Region 6, fellow Region 5-ers the Hornets from Harvey-Wells County, Shiloh Christian from Region 8, and Park River-Fordville-Lankin and the Grafton Spoilers from Region 4.
Rugby will play the Spoilers at 10 a.m. and Park River at 2:30 p.m.
"They're both competing out of [Region 4] every year to go to state," Schieve said of Grafton and Park River.
Foster said: "Both are traditional baseball powers. One of those two teams always comes out of that region for the state tournament. But I think they're in the same boat we are. They're going to bring good teams to the table, but the biggest thing right now this time of year is they could care less who they're playing this time of year, whether they're playing Rugby or anybody else. They just want to get games in, they want to get reps, they want to get their kids on the field."
Rugby will host the Lions Tuesday (April 11) for the first home game of the season. Two days later, Rugby is slated to travel to Dunseith for the first in-region game. In addition to Dunseith and the Hornets, other in-region foes include Bottineau (April 17 and May 4), Northern Lights (April 27 and May 15) and North Star (April 21 and May 8).
The Panthers lost four players due to graduation last year: Jaden Munyer, Hunter Hager, Blain Rosencrans and Evan Burckhard.
"We lost one very good pitcher in Evan Burckhard, we lost two pretty solid bats in Evan and Blain Rosencrans," Foster said. "Hunter Hager had by far his best season at the plate and played a multitude of positions for us. We were hit [by graduation] but if you compare our roster to others, we probably are about as fortunate as anybody.
Schieve said the team has a "great" group of seniors returning this year including Kyle Ebach, Anders Johnson, John Mueller, Dillon Marco and Ben Hershey. Underclassmen expected to play this year include Landen Foster at centerfield, Shayden and Cy Luna, Seth Jaeger, Mayson McCabe and Isaiah Johnson.