Angelo Altavilla has grown accustomed to playing in the state tournament for Lakeville North, be it in baseball or hockey. To make it six consecutive state tournaments will be a matter of whether the senior shortstop can help lead an inexperienced group back to the Class 3A field on the diamond.
Altavilla is coming off his first state championship season, in hockey. The Panthers won the Class 2A crown last month with a 4-1 victory over Duluth East. They were the state tournament runner-up in 2014 after losing both of their games in 2013.
The baseball team is coming off a third-place finish, losing to eventual champion Mounds View 2-1 in the semifinals of the state tournament in 2014. It finished in fifth place in 2013.
“It’s been quite a journey since my sophomore year,” said Altavilla, who has committed to playing baseball for the University of Nebraska. “To win a state championship is unbelievable, especially doing it with your best friends.”
The Lakeville North baseball team’s biggest concern will be overhauling the pitching staff. Coach Tony Market saw 21 players graduate from his 23-5 squad of a year ago.
“Year in and year out, the expectations are no different,” Market said. “The things that change are the puzzle pieces. We have some big shoes to fill, but we’re hopeful.”
Senior righthander Wes Ahlers had the other two victories last season. Ahlers had a 1.89 ERA in 30 innings of work. He struck out 25 and walked seven.
He is expected to be joined on the staff by seniors Grant Gunderson, Bret Herber and Kyle Rhodus, and juniors Joey Larson and Billy Riach. Some of them also will be looked at as everyday players for the two-time reigning South Suburban Conference champions.
“We had three or four really good pitchers last year,” Altavilla said. “We need guys to step up for us this year. They didn’t get a lot of varsity experience last year, but I know they’ll do well.”
Altavilla headlines the everyday starters. He had a school record 37 RBI last season. He collected another 43 RBI for his state champion American Legion team. Altavilla had a three-home run game against Eastview while driving a state-record 12 RBI.
“Angelo works so hard to make himself a better baseball player,” Market said. “He has a wealth of confidence. He provides us with a lot of leadership.”
Two-thirds of the state tournament outfield returns in Rhodus and junior Drew Stewart. Rhodus hit .362 while Stewart batted .400.
“They both have really elevated their games,” Market said. “That’s what makes a team great.”
Four others are looking to crack the everyday lineup. They are senior infielder Nathaniel Anderson, junior infielder Mitch Frederick, junior catcher/first baseman Jake Peterson and freshman catcher Nick Juaire.
“We still have some high goals,” Altavilla said. “It’s going to take everybody being 100 percent committed. To reach the ultimate goal is unbelievable.”
Altavilla knows that feeling, firsthand.