Kimberly's Zach Lechnir throws to first base during a Division 1 state quarterfinal against Green Bay Preble on June 12, 2019 at Fox Cities Stadium.
Opening day of the 2019 WIAA spring baseball season is on March 26. Hundreds of teams will compete for a state championship, but only four will be crowned champions in June. Which teams look like they'll have the best chance at hoisting the gold trophy at the end of the season? Here are our preseason rankings for Division 1.
(In alphabetical order)
Bay Port — Almost the entire pitching staff returns for the Pirates, led by Heartland Community College commit Carter Highline (5-1, 1.65 ERA). Jacksonville recruit Jake Berg (.340) and first team all-conference outfielder Call Verlanic (.315) should power the lineup.
Eau Claire Memorial —Need to replace some of last year's outstanding pitchers, but Arkansas recruit Vincent Trapani (2-0, 1.10 ERA) and Winona State recruit Cooper Kapanke (2-0, 2.20 ERA) are both back for the Old Abes. Roughly two-thirds of the team's hitters return.
Holmen — The defending Mississippi Valley Conference champions return with most of their pitchers from last year. That includes McHenry County College recruit Nevin Wall (7-1, 2.84 ERA) and UW-La Crosse recruit Ben Byom (4-0, 1.70 ERA).
Hortonville — Last year's Fox Valley Association champions should have good depth on the mound, led by Eastern Illinois recruit Jason Jennerjohn (4-1, 2.89 ERA) and Mason Thiel (3-0, 1.27 ERA). Third team All-Wisconsin outfielder Eli Kramer (.419, 23 RBIs) is one of the state's top hitters.
Kenosha Tremper — Six starters return for last year's Southeast Conference champions, including Reese Dutton (.390, 20 RBIs/3-1, 3.15 ERA).
Menomonee Falls — The Indians went to the summer state tournament last year and have roughly two-thirds of their lineup back. Brennen Beck (.404) and Dayne Fuiten (.305) both return after being second team all-conference last season.
Muskego — The final state champions of the WIAA summer baseball era will have half of their lineup back this spring, including outfielder Wes Kwapick (.345).
Oconomowoc — About three-quarters of the team that won a regional title is back this year, including a plethora of college recruits. Winona State commit Nate Platter (.305/4-2, 1.94 ERA), McHenry County College commits Miller Wallace (.423/2-0, 0.53 ERA) and Hunter Olson (.440), MSOE recruit Ian Knuth (.419), Triton Junior College recruit Nick Brazelton (.301) and Lake County Community College recruit Gavin Daniel (.363) are some of the players the Raccoons will rely on.
Westosha Central — The Falcons bring back almost everybody from a squad that went 17-7 last year, including all of their pitchers. Dylan Anderson (4-1, 1.92 ERA), Illinois-Springfield recruit Austin Glidden (4-1, 2.86 ERA) and Cooper Griffiths (5-3, 2.27 ERA) have all shown they can win games on the mound.
The Southeast Conference title race should be tightly-contested this spring, and Kenosha Bradford’s vast experience puts the Red Devils among the favorites.
Bradford won 19 games and a regional title last season and returns with most of its roster intact. Honorable mention All-Wisconsin outfielder Cody Tostrud hit .406 with 11 extra-base hits and 20 RBIs last season. Also coming back to the lineup are everyday players Tanner Hurley (.440, 8 doubles, 16 RBIs), Carthage College recruit Kyle McKinnon (.329, 12 RBIs) and Riley Hughes (.351, 8 doubles, 17 RBIs). Several others who performed well last season should see more playing time this spring.
The team’s top four pitchers are all back. Madison College recruit Jarrett Ramer returns as the squad’s ace. He was 7-3 with a 2.36 ERA last season. Nick Cairo (4-4, 1.68 ERA), Nathan Schabel (1-1, 3.20 ERA) and McKinnon (2-2, 3.50 ERA) will all add depth to the pitching staff.
The Red Devils could be locked in a battle with Kenosha Tremper and Oak Creek for the Southeast crown, but their experience at the plate and on the mound could give them a leg up.
The Hilltoppers reached the regional finals in the summer last year, and have gone to state in two of the last three years. Most of last year’s roster is back in the mix this spring.
Riley Garczynski, an Indiana University Kokomo recruit, hit .382 and was an honorable mention all-state selection last year. Madison College commit Ryan Hubley will be a contributor both at the plate and on the mound. He batted .286 and went 3-0 with a 4.02 ERA last season and was an honorable mention all-conference pick. Players like Joey Pettit (.305) and Tim Gueldner (.340) also bring back varsity experience.
On the mound, Mike McDevitt (3-1, 3.25 ERA) and Pettit (2.86 ERA) saw innings last summer and should team up with Hubley to form the core of the pitching staff.
As usual, Marquette is considered among the favorites to win the Greater Metro Conference.
The Panthers won the Wisconsin Valley Conference and reached the sectional finals last season, but are seeking their first trip to state since 2014. A standout pitching staff is reason for SPASH to optimistic that this could be the year a return to Appleton happens.
Honorable mention All-Wisconsin pitcher and UW-Stevens Point commit JD Schultz (9-0, 0.81 ERA) will team up with Rock Valley Junior College recruit Reese Gaber (3-0, 1.62 ERA) and Dylan Trigg (5-2, 3.15 ERA) to form a trio that should win plenty of ball games.
Four players who earned all-conference recognition figure to return to the lineup, including first-teamers Brady Franz (.299) and Jack Kelly (.348). Also back are honorable mention All-WVC picks Tristin Aldrich (.346) and Brett Ehr (.222). About two-thirds of the team’s hitting production returns.
The Warhawks, who have reached the state semifinals for three straight seasons, have quite a bit of production to replace this season. Luckily for Arrowhead, a strong group of returning pitchers should help make things easier.
Honorable mention All-Wisconsin pitcher Davis Zeutzius, a Winona State recruit, was 7-1 with a 1.15 ERA and an average of one strikeout per inning last season. MSOE commit Luke Schraufnagel (4-1, 0.99 ERA) and Carter Endisch (2-0, 4.20 ERA) also return with state tournament experience.
The batting order will need some re-tooling, but there are some good hitters to build around. UW-Stevens Point recruit Joey Bartolone (.320) and No. 3 hitter Nic Wohlfiel (.314) both bring solid bats to the lineup. Tyler LaMack and Schraufnagel also have varsity experience. New players will need to step up to round out the lineup though.
While the team’s hitters get up to speed with the varsity game, the pitching staff should be able to hold down the fort and help the Warhawks win plenty of games.
The Spartans are making the switch to spring baseball after winning 22 games last summer. Summer champions as recently as 2017, West Bend West has most of last season’s roster returning – a roster that was strong in all facets of the game.
Leading the way at the plate is Winona State recruit Logan Rupnow, who was a second team all-state selection last summer. He hit .453 with 40 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. Infielder Lukas Broske (.318) was an honorable mention All-North Shore Conference selection last season, while junior Gavin Hinckley (.253) already has two years of varsity experience. Jimmy D’Angelo (.365), Brad Weber (.313) and Logan Chesak (.317) all got starts for the Spartans last season as well.
Broske, Hinckley and Weber form a potent trio on the mound for West Bend West. Broske was 6-2 with a 2.77 ERA last summer, while Hinckley went 4-0 and posted a 2.72 ERA. Weber was 3-3 and had a 2.77 ERA.
The Spartans appear to be the early favorite to win the North Shore crown in their first season back in the spring. They’ll attempt to win it with a new coach – Dan D’Amico, who joins from Waukesha West – as 18-year coach Billy Albrecht stepped down after last year.
The Cougars have made three trips to state in the last four years, but never had a more heartbreaking end to a season than they did last June. Craig lost to Arrowhead on a walk-off home run in the state semifinals, and will undoubtedly be looking to get that taste out of its mouth this spring.
They’ve got the goods to make another run at a Big Eight Conference title and trip to state this year. As usual, a handful of Division 1 recruits will lead the way. Mitchell Woelfle, an Air Force recruit, returns to the mound. He was 6-3 with a 2.70 ERA last season, and is joined by Milwaukee School of Engineering recruit Micah Overley (6-2, 1.69 ERA) to form one of the more prolific duos in the state. Tegan Christiansen (1-1, 1.71 ERA) adds another solid arm to the Cougars’ pitching staff.
Michigan commit Dan Blomgren is the Cougars’ top returning hitter. He batted .365 with nine extra-base hits and 16 RBIs last year. Also back in the lineup are Clark Schmaling (.310, 17 RBIs), Tressin Kussmaul (.308, 18 RBIs) and Lake County Community College commit Jacob Hesseling (.263). Additionally, Overley hit .304 last spring. Others will see bigger roles this year.
Craig saw a run of three straight conference titles snapped last season, but the Cougars are the favorite to get back to the top of the standings this year.
The defending state champions return with the reigning Wisconsin Baseball Central Player of the Year, catcher Nate Stevens. The Arkansas recruit hit .512 with eight doubles, three triples and eight home runs last season. He drove in 38 runs for the state champs.
Stevens isn’t the only talented player the Warriors have back. Honorable mention All-Wisconsin outfielder Ryne Fueger hit .407 with nine doubles and 19 RBIs last spring. Junior Taiten Manriquez (.417, eight extra-base hits, 15 RBIs) was a finalist for Newcomer of the Year. The Warriors graduated a large and successful senior class, but the trio of Stevens, Fueger and Manriquez are a good core to build around this spring.
Throw into the mix the arrival of Joe Hauser (.394, 15 RBIs), a finalist for 2017 Newcomer of the Year who transferred to Waunakee from Sun Prairie, and the Warriors have a solid lineup to play with. Others like Nick Smith, Dane Luebke and Will Ross could see larger roles this year.
Manriquez will be the team’s top returning pitcher. He posted a 2.18 ERA in 32 innings of work. Austin Keller (3.28 ERA) also returns, and Stevens had a 2.00 ERA in limited work last spring.
The Hornets reached the state tournament for the third season in a row last year. They got knocked out in the state semifinals in 11 innings by Waunakee, a game that’s among the most exciting games played at the state tournament in recent memory. Preble’s two stars from last year’s team both return, and they’re both only juniors: Ryan Stefiuk and Max Wagner. Those two make for a formidable one-two punch on the mound. Stefiuk, a Vanderbilt recruit, was 9-0 with a miniscule 0.50 ERA last season. He has pitched two no-hitters in his career. Wagner, who is committed to Clemson, went 7-1 with a 1.09 ERA. Wagner is also a force at the plate. He hit .443 with 13 extra-base hits last year.
Cleanup hitter Josh Nicklaus (.341, 25 RBIs) also returns to the Hornets’ lineup, along with outfielder Ben Graff (.292, 15 RBIs) and utility man Zach Renier.
There’s not much varsity pitching experience beyond Stefiuk and Wagner in the Hornets’ staff. Nicklaus pitched nine innings and had a 1.56 ERA, but no other returners pitched more than five innings last season.
The Hornets have won at least a share of the last three Fox River Classic Conference titles, and look to be the strong favorite to win the 2019 league championship.
The Demons have made three consecutive trips to the state tournament, achieving last year’s quarterfinal run with a team composed of mainly juniors and sophomores. With seven starters back in the mix from a team that went 20-8, a fourth straight trip to Fox Cities Stadium doesn’t seem too far out of reach.
Burlington appears to be set on the mound, with its top three pitchers all returning – two of which are Division I recruits. Leading the way is ace Trey Krause, an Illinois State commit. The southpaw went 6-2 and posted a 1.26 ERA with 90 strikeouts in 61 innings. Joining him to form a strong one-two punch on the mound is Valparaiso recruit Trent Turzenski. He was 5-1 and had a 2.52 ERA last spring. Jason Adams (25 innings, 1-1 record, 1.68 ERA) also returns.
At the plate, Krause returns as the team’s top hitter. He batted .474 with seven hits for extra bases and 14 RBIs. Grant Tully (.350, 11 RBIs, 13 stolen bases), Turzenski (.341, 15 RBIs) and Tucker Strommen (.290, 10 RBIs) are among the Demons’ other top returning sluggers. Six of the team’s returning starters hit over .250.
With a great mix of pitching and hitting, the Demons look like the team to beat in the Southern Lakes Conference.
After five consecutive trips to state, it’s no surprise to see the Papermakers in preseason top 10s these days. And after reaching Fox Cities Stadium without a single senior last year, Kimberly is back and looking like the early favorite this spring.
Everybody will be back for a Papermakers squad that won 18 games and reached the Division 1 quarterfinals last year. That includes the Lechnir twins, who are both committed to Central Michigan. Zach Lechnir, the team’s shortstop, hit .387 with eight extra-base hits and 15 stolen bases last season. Drew Lechnir, an outfielder, batted .306, drove in 21 runs and stole 14 bags.
Catcher Beau Schumacher earned third team All-Wisconsin honors after hitting .440 with seven extra-base hits and an eye-catching 48 RBIs. Utility man John Nett was an honorable mention All-Wisconsin selection, hitting .457 with 12 RBIs. Overall, the Papermakers have six starters back who hit over .300 last season.
The entire pitching staff is back, led by senior Trey Tennessen. He was 5-2 and posted a 2.42 ERA last spring. Jordan Purdy and Donovan Schultz both went 5-1 last year, and Nett picked up three wins on the hill.
The Papermakers’ sectional is a tough draw this year, also featuring No. 3 Green Bay Preble and defending Fox Valley Association champion Hortonville, among others. But Kimberly has experience like few others have, and a winning pedigree in June that makes them a contender not to be taken lightly.