Pitching-rich Vikings hope to contend in Big Eight
Despite winning only five games during the regular season last year, Janesville Parker's baseball team came within six outs of playing for a berth in the Division 1 state tournament.
The Vikings had the lead in the sixth inning of a sectional semifinal game against Stoughton before losing 6-4.
Coach Brian Martin hopes the 2014 team can build off the late-season success from a year ago.
“We made a nice (tournament) run last year and it was a great learning experience for those kids coming back,” Martin said. “We had a great chance to win that game, and because we came up short, the guys returning are hungry.
“Everybody worked hard in the offseason because in the back of their minds, they know we have a chance to be a pretty good baseball team this year.”
Parker returns six starters, including All-Big Eight first-team outfielder Cullen Osmond.
Martin believes the Vikings, if they can stay healthy, have enough pitching depth and offensive firepower to finish in the top three in the conference.
Sun Prairie, the three-time defending Division 1 state champion, is the prohibitive favorite to win the Big Eight.
Pitching should be Parker's strength. The Vikings have seven capable starters, including four that saw extensive varsity action a year ago.
Heading the list is senior Collin Powers, who was the tough-luck loser against Stoughton in the sectional semifinal game. The righthander will be joined in the rotation by sophomore lefthander Hunter Van Zandt, senior righthander Darin Brewster and junior righthander Conner Osmond. Cullen Osmond, junior lefthander Logan Coulter and junior righthander Zach Bailey are also expected to log innings.
“I've never had this much pitching depth,” Martin said. “So when you start hitting the weeks where you've got four or five games because of postponements, that's huge.
“Now obviously, this all looks great on paper, but the bottom line is that you've still got to come out, throw strikes and give your team a chance.”
Bailey, a three-year varsity player and All-Big Eight honorable mention a year ago, anchors the infield. He will play short, with either senior Dominick Gruenwald or junior Brock Welch at second. Powers, Brewster, or senior Brennan Olin are battling for the starting job at third base, while senior Mitch Benway, Van Zandt and sophomore Hunter Yerke are the first-base candidates.
Parker's outfield should be one of the Big Eight's best. Cullen Osmond starts in center, his brother, Connor, will be in left and the hard-hitting Coulter starts in right. Senior Richard Burkheimer provides depth in the outfield.
Will Theisen, who took over the catching duties midway through the season last year, is back for what Martin believes will be a strong senior season.
“As soon as we moved Will behind the plate last year, things improved as a team,” Martin said. “He's a good leader, and with Zach at short, we've got two kids that are very vocal and very knowledgeable about the game.”
Parker's lineup should feature a nice mix of speed and power. Martin said his team won't sit back and wait for the 3-run homer, but has five or six players capable of hitting the ball out of the park.
“We've got some real good athletes on this team that have worked hard,” Martin said. “Staying healthy is key, like it is for most teams, but like I told them, there's no reason we can't finish in the top three in the Big Eight.
“We'll see how things go once we can finally get outside and get some games under our belt, but I really like this team. It's a talented group.”
(All home games at Riverside Park)
5—At Watertown (DH), 11 a.m.; 8—Madison La Follette, 5 p.m.; 10—At Madison Memorial, 5 p.m.; 15—Middleton, 5 p.m.; 19—At Madison East, 11 a.m.; 21—At Beloit Memorial, 5 p.m.; 22—Madison West, 5 p.m.; 24—At Verona, 5 p.m.; 29—At Sun Prairie, 5 p.m.
1—At Janesville Craig, 7:15 p.m.; 3—Westosha Central (DH), 11 a.m.; 8—At Madison La Follette, 5 p.m.; 8—Madison Memorial, 5 p.m.; 10—At Middleton, 11 a.m.; Sheboygan South (at Middleton), 1 p.m.; 13—Beloit Memorial, 5 p.m.; 14—Madison East, 5 p.m.; 16—Evansville, 5 p.m.; 17—At Racine Park (DH), 11 a.m.; 20—At Madison West, 5 p.m.; 22—Verona, 5 p.m.; 27—At Sun Prairie, 5 p.m.; 29—Janesville Craig, 7:15 p.m.