Waupun's Jarrett Buchholz runs the bases during a Division 2 state semifinal against Ellsworth on June 13, 2018 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 2.
(In alphabetical order)
Altoona – Most of last year’s co-West Cloverbelt champions players are back. Madison College recruit Jake Nelson (.516) and Nate McMahon (.468) were both all-conference picks last year.
Antigo – Winners of six straight conference titles, the Red Robins will need to replace a lot of talent lost to graduation. Pitcher Brady Renfro (4-0, 0.63 ERA), a Valparaiso recruit, offers a good place to start.
Ashland – Most of last year’s team that earned a No. 1 seed in the playoffs returns this spring. Jordan Brennan (.398/3-1, 1.89 ERA) should contribute on both sides of the ball.
Fox Valley Lutheran – Four starters are back from a team that was one win away from state last year, including second team all-conference outfielder Jakob Ulman (.296).
Freedom – Over half the lineup is back from a regional championship team. All-conference players Kyle Elias (4-1, 1.54 ERA) and Noah Taege (.378) should power the Irish on the mound and offensively, respectively.
Martin Luther – A few starters are back for the Metro Classic Conference champions, including first team all-league selections Nate Crawley (.349) and Bryce Kulinski (.400).
New Richmond – The Tigers reached the Division 1 regional finals last season, and should be helped by the drop to Division 2 this spring. Two all-conference pitchers returning – Reece Lucas (6-2, 1.74 ERA) and Ryan Kling (5-1, 0.91 ERA) – will be tough to beat. Five starters are also back.
Waupaca – The Comets have six starters returning from a conference championship team, but will need to have some new pitching step up to fill some big roles on the staff.
The Indians went to the state tournament last season – their second straight trip – and will need to replace two of their top three hitters from that team. The good news for Mosinee is that four starters are back, as is most of the pitching staff.
2018 Newcomer of the Year finalist Trey Fitzgerald returns after hitting .442 with five doubles and 11 RBIs last spring. He’s joined by Cole Vandehey (.316, 12 RBIs), Matt Olson (.302, 14 RBIs) and Ryan Walsh (.244, 7 RBIs) as returning starters from Mosinee’s trip to state.
Luke Spink is the team’s top returning pitcher after going 5-1 with a 1.64 ERA last season. It should be a well-rounded pitching staff for the Indians this year. Vandehey (4-2, 3.32 ERA) and Walsh (1-1, 2.26 ERA) both bring back significant experience.
Antigo is the favorite in the Great Northern Conference until prove otherwise – the Red Robins haven’t lost a conference game in years – but the Indians should be their biggest challenger this spring.
The Eagles were the state runner-up last season, but will need to replace a lot of talent this spring. That includes 2018 Wisconsin Player of the Year finalist Ian Drays.
Three starters will be back in the lineup. Nathan Hebbe (.410), Sam Cincotta (.295) and Reese Fetherston (.200) all return with valuable experience. Jacob Busler (.275) could see an increased role this year too, among others.
The pitching staff took a hit, as last year’s ace Ryan Brost will miss this spring due to injury. He was unbeaten last season. Cincotta, who pitched 19 innings last year, is the only returning pitcher with significant experience.
There are gaps to fill in the lineup and the pitching staff, but a team that has won three consecutive conference titles like Jefferson always seems to find a way to reload.
The Pirates won 20 games last summer, and most of the pitchers who earned those victories are back. Couple that with five starters returning to the lineup, and Pewaukee figures to be a factor in the Woodland West Conference.
Travis Bentley (6-3, 4.26 ERA), Josh Geisel (4-0, 1.90 ERA) and Josh Cottrill (4-1, 3.60 ERA) will lead a pitching staff that has plenty of experience.
Geisel, who is also a catcher, was an all-conference selection after hitting .383 last season. Cottrill (.333) also had a solid showing with his bat last year. Grant Ross (.302), Quinn Berling (.316), Elliot Mueller (.435) and David Bell (.253) also bring back experience at the plate.
Pewaukee was one of the more consistent programs in WIAA summer baseball over the last few years, and it appears that will carry over to the spring.
Six players are back who received all-conference recognition for the Green Devils last year. Adams-Friendship picked up 15 wins and has almost its entire team back.
The whole lineup is back, led by first team All-South Central Conference picks Braedyn Quinnell (.420, 13 extra-base hits, 20 steals), Teagan Kotlowski (.367) and Griffin West (.358). Second teamers Dalton Pollex (.292), Austin Schwabe (.276) and Harry Nawrot (.250) are also back, along with Cole LaMont (.290).
The pitching staff will be led by LaMont (5-2, 1.38 ERA), Quinnell (4-3, 1.32 ERA) and Kotlowski (3-2, 3.32 ERA).
With another year of growth, the Green Devils could be in prime position to capture the South Central crown and make a playoff run in June.
The Panthers won 19 games and reached the sectional semifinals last summer, and have most of their roster returning for the switch to the spring season.
The lineup will feature some consistent bats. Senior outfielder Sean Sanchez earned honorable mention all-state recognition last year after hitting .400. He was joined on the All-Woodland West Conference team by teammate Sam Swittel (.426). JR Muth (.315) and Sam Brahm (.286) are a couple of other returners with varsity experience.
Nearly all of the team’s innings on the mound are back from last year. Will Brust (2.87 ERA) and Billy Decker (1.61 ERA) were both three-game winners, and Sammy Muth (2-1, 0.65 ERA) is also back.
With defending league champion Pius XI getting hit hard by graduation, the Panthers look like one of the teams that could emerge from a tightly-contested conference race with the title.
The Trojans, co-champions of the Rock Valley Conference, won a regional title last spring before falling in the sectional semifinals. Six starters are back and have Turner looking like a possible contender.
The lineup looks to be an area of strength for the Trojans. Leading the way at the plate will be Cory Walker (.371, 20 RBIs), Adrian Estrada (.309, 16 RBIs), Drew Ries (.340, 19 RBIs), Riley Phalin (.367), Kaleb Schoville (.298, 7 RBIs), Kyle Hanaman (.259) and Preston Viens (.241, 11 RBIs).
Viens is the top returner from a pitching staff that graduated two of its top three throwers. The righty was 4-1 with a 2.68 ERA last spring. Ries (1-0, 0.51 ERA) and Walker (0.91 ERA) pitched 13.2 and 6.2 innings respectively. They’re the only other two players back with significant varsity innings under their belt. New faces will need to provide depth on the mound.
The Trojans will need to replace first team All-Wisconsin outfielder Mitchell Seager and third team All-Wisconsin infielder Hunter Waldsmith, but if they can survive those losses, they look like the favorite in the RVC.
The Panthers went to the summer state tournament last year, where they were no-hit by Muskego – although they only surrendered one hit in that loss. About two-thirds of the team is back this season.
At the plate, Plymouth will be led by the likes of Joe Steinhardt (.389, 8 extra-base hits, 22 RBIs) and Cooper Gosse (.367, 14 extra-base hits, 34 RBIs). The lineup should be well-balanced, as three other returning starters hit above .300: Matt Pohl (.333, 9 extra-base hits, 20 RBIs), Will Birckholz (.324, 19 RBIs) and Aiden Reilly (.329, 8 extra-base hits, 19 RBIs).
The Panthers will need to replace two of their top three pitchers from last season, but Reilly should help in that regard. He was 6-3 with a 3.44 ERA last summer. Jack Nytes (1.83 ERA), Steinhardt (1.70 ERA) and Gosse (4.20 ERA) could potentially all see larger roles on the mound this year.
Plymouth, which won the Eastern Wisconsin Conference last summer, will compete in the East Central Conference this year. They should be one of the top challengers to defending champion Waupun.
The Phantoms, who have won three consecutive Bay Conference titles, reached the sectional finals last season and return with plenty of talent.
Many of the team’s best hitters are back, including 2018 Newcomer of the Year and Southern Illinois recruit Cameron Dupont. He hit .461 with 16 extra-base hits and 36 RBIs. Catcher Kaden Kosobucki (.419, 8 extra-base hits, 19 RBIs) was also a Newcomer of the Year finalist. Also returning are Bennett Olson (.400, 10 extra-base hits, 29 RBIs), Hunter Towslee (.342, 7 RBIs), Jacob Kocken (.290, 11 RBIs), Parker Nimmer (.271, 5 RBIs) and Zach Ziesmer (.273, 6 RBIs).
Northern Illinois recruit and honorable mention All-Wisconsin pitcher Connor Langreder (7-1, 1.23 ERA) will team up with fellow lefty Ben Hampton (6-1, 1.39 ERA) to form a dominant one-two punch on the mound. None of the other returning players pitched more than 10 innings last season, so new faces will need to step up to round out the pitching staff.
West De Pere has been on the verge of reaching the Division 1 state tournament several times in recent years, and now that the Phantoms are in Division 2 they’ll be optimistic of their chances to make it to Appleton in June.
Almost every player returns from a Crusaders team that reached the sectional finals last season. That includes a deep and experienced pitching staff. Duke recruit Luke Fox (5-2, 1.94 ERA) and Chris Byhre Jr. (4-0, 2.29 ERA) have both showcased the ability to win at the varsity level. Byhre Jr. has seen his fastball hit 90 mph this offseason. Jack Durst (4-1, 2.96 ERA) also brings back plenty of experience on the mound.
At the plate, Marian commit Joe Koscinski (.394, 14 extra-base hits, 19 RBIs) is joined by the likes of Byhre Jr. (.400, 17 RBIs), Fox (.382, 16 RBIs), Alex Cyskiewicz (.368, 10 extra-base hits, 18 RBIs), Matt Klement (.311, 15 RBIs) and Matt Schultz (.333, 10 RBIs). The Crusaders should have a well-rounded offense that will be tough for opposing pitchers to navigate.
The Classic Eight Conference will be tightly-contested this season, and the Crusaders figure to be one of the main contenders.
The Warriors went from ranked No. 1 in the preseason to state champion last season, and will have high hopes again this spring.
The defending state champions bring back five starters and most of their pitching staff. Caden Bronkhorst was 8-1 and posted a 1.46 ERA as the team’s No. 2 pitcher last season, but he should be Waupun’s go-to guy this year. Also returning to the staff are Vaughn Williston (3-1, 1.77 ERA) and Brayden Sanders (2-0, 0.44 ERA).
The lineup should be strong again this season. 2018 Newcomer of the Year finalist Jarrett Buchholz is back after hitting .411 last spring. He’s joined by Baron Buchholz (.310, 9 doubles, 19 RBIs), Reece Homan (.300, 6 extra-base hits, 16 RBIs), Keegan Hartgerink (.295, 18 RBIs) and Bronkhorst (.306, 9 RBIs).
Waupun simply knows how to win — the Warriors' Legion team also won the Class A state title last summer. Until another team proves otherwise, Waupun is the team to beat in Division 2.