UW-Whitewater is No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
WHITEWATER--When UW-Whitewater opened the 2016 baseball season in Winter Haven, Fla., John Vodenlich's players didn't expect their run to end at the NCAA Division III World Series in Grand Chute.
“I think we kind of surprised ourselves,” second baseman Steve Chamberlain said.
Returning to the World Series this season was the team's expectation long before the '17 opener in March.
“When we play well, I'm not sure there is a team in the nation that can beat us,” said Vodenlich, who has guided Whitewater to two national titles and six World Series berths in 13 seasons as head coach. “When we play poorly…when we're not playing our kind of baseball, I think anyone can beat us.
“When we can't pitch and play defense…anyone can beat us.”
Whitewater (35-7), ranked in the top three of both national polls, resumes its quest for a World Series berth on Thursday.
The Warhawks are seeded No. 1 in the Midwest Regional, set to be played at Prucha Field on Whitewater's campus.
Whitewater, which won the WIAC regular-season and tournament titles, opens the double-elimination regional at 1:15 p.m. Thursday against No. 8 St. Norbert (30-11), which won the Midwest Conference tournament.
UW-La Crosse (28-17), the runner-up in the WIAC tournament, received an at-large berth and is No. 5 in the Midwest. The Eagles, who qualified for the World Series in each of the last two seasons, open at 10 a.m. Thursday against No. 4 St. Scholastica (32-8).
Chamberlain was a freshman on the 2014 Whitewater team that went 4-0 in the regional and then 4-0 at the World Series to finish 44-7.
“We expected to win every game we played,” said Chamberlain, who has started all 42 games this season and is third on the team in hitting at .364. “I had higher expectations for this team. You can't do anything more than win the national championship but I think this team has the potential to be better than that team.”
Whitewater enters the regional with seven players hitting at least .317 and a team batting average of .325.
Vodenlich has four pitchers who have started at least eight games.
The rotation of junior Austin Jones (8-2, 1.75 ERA), junior Heath Renz (8-0, 1.94), senior Westin Wuethrich (5-1, 3.56) and senior Ankur Shah (5-0. 4.24) has combined to limit foes to a .218 batting average. That quartet has combined for 243 strikeouts and 60 walks in 253 2/3 innings.
Mike Nompleggi (4-1, 1.91 ERA and six saves) and Michael Kaska (2-2, 2.89) have provided dependable relief for most of the season.
Jones, from Wauwatosa West High School, was the team's closer as a freshman in 2014. He suffered a season-ending arm injury in his second appearance in 2015 and made only 10 appearances last season.
Jones, who underwent Tommy John surgery, didn't feel sound until last summer.
“I started getting my spots back, my velocity back and my secondary pitches,” he said. “From there I just kept the ball rolling.”
Renz, from Jefferson High School, has become the No. 2 starter after pitching most out of the bullpen last season.
“We knew that Renz was starting to blossom,” Vodenlich said.
Wuethrich, from Greenwood, started out at Madison Area Technical College, then played one season at the University of Washington before transferring to Whitewater for his final season.
Shah has been up and down this season but allowed three runs on six hits in the WIAC tournament final, an 8-3 victory over La Crosse.
“Ankur did a nice job,” Vodenlich said. “He had good stuff. Anytime he does that he puts us in a position to win.
Whitewater, which won its first national title in 2005, went 0-2 in the 2016 World Series.
The Warhawks believe they are capable of making another run.
“It left a real sour taste in our mouths when we got knocked out so quickly,” Chamberlain said.