Raiders ready to unveil new lineup carrying same hunger to be state tournament team

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Quincy Notre Dame senior right-hander Evan Kenning will get the start in Friday's season opener against Sherrard at Ferd Niemann Jr. Memorial Ballfield. | Matt Schuckman photo

QUINCY — Come Friday, when the Quincy Notre Dame baseball team opens its season, there will be an angel in the outfield looking over the Raiders and every day moving forward.

The school will retire the No. 5 worn by Tucker Tollerton, the starting center fielder on last year’s Class 2A third-place state team who was tragically killed in a car accident last May just hours after the Raiders won the sectional championship.

The ceremony will take place around 4:15 p.m. at Ferd Niemann Jr. Memorial Ballfield, shortly before QND faces Sherrard.

“Emotions are going to be flying,” said Evan Kenning, the senior right-hander who will be QND’s starting pitcher Friday. “We’re going to have a lot of people out here sad, crying, happy, just a lot of different emotions. It’s definitely going to pave the way for how we’re all going to play.”

The Raiders expect that to be at the highest level.

“Last year’s group was incredibly special,” said senior shortstop Nolan Robb, who started at second base as the Raiders finished last season with a 36-2 record. “People don’t realize how special this group is, and it’s going to be fun to show them.”

QND graduated 10 seniors from the winningest team in school history, and eight of those seniors are playing collegiately this spring.

Kenning and Robb are the only returnees with starting experience, while senior outfielder Cale Linenfelser, junior right-hander Abram Wiewel and sophomore outfielder Gavin Doellman will take on expanded roles this season.

It creates a lot of opportunities for new faces to emerge and roles still to be defined, and the upperclassmen believe the lessons in leadership learned from the Class of 2023 will carry over.

“We have good leadership on this team, and the young guys take to us well,” Robb said. “They listen. They’re all grinders.”

They’ll need to be to back up what should be a stout pitching staff.

Kenning went 4-0 in six starts with a 3.36 ERA, while Wiewel went 2-0 and made 10 appearances with a 4.67 ERA. Senior right-hander Ethan Rose, who missed last season with an injury, could be the kind of workhorse the Raiders need as well. He has already committed to play collegiately at William Woods University and has a fastball popping in the upper 80s.

Their philosophy on the mound is simple.

“Come out and compete and not back down,” Wiewel said.

Quincy Notre Dame senior Nolan Robb will shift from second base to shortstop this season and be the anchor of the infield. | Matt Schuckman photo

With an ample amount of bullpen arms as well, Robb believes it spells doom for opponents.

“We’re throwing strikes, and there’s good velo and good movement on everything,” he said. “They don’t need to strike people out and they know that. They’re trusting their defense.”

Despite so many few faces, the Raiders believe the defense will be dynamic. Robb anchors the infield at shortstop with Wiewel at third base when he’s not pitching. The right side likely will feature Elliott Hendrian at second base and a combination of Noah Lunt and Rose at first base.

Doellman takes over in center field and will be flanked by Linenfelser in left and junior Logan Sutton in right. 

“Our defense is going to pick them up,” Linenfelser said.

The pitchers believe it.

“My game plan is to hit the zone and hit my spots, but I’m not afraid to let them hit me,” Kenning said. “I have a good defense behind me, and I trust everybody on all corners of the field. I know we’re going to play our game.”

While this group may not have the same amount of pop as last year’s crew — the Raiders hit 44 round-trippers — they’re confident in being able to score.

“We’ll move the baseball better than almost anyone out there,” said Robb, who hit .372 last season with six home runs and 43 RBIs.

It’s because the Raiders are hungry to maintain the high level of success and make another run at a state tournament berth.

“Very hungry,” Linenfelser said. “We’re just excited to go out and play.”

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