Crosstown collision: Parker, Craig meet Thursday as Big Eight baseball contenders

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John Barry
Saturday, April 26, 2014

JANESVILLE—Baseball is back!

The sport was king during the 70s and 80s at both Janesville Craig and Janesvile Parker, but gave way to mediocrity the last two decades.

Craig last won the Big Eight in 2001, while Parker hasn't won a conference title since the early 90s.

The two regular-season games between the crosstown rivals have always been a good draw at Riverside Park, but this Thursday night's clash is the most meaningful game the two teams have played against each other in years. Both teams are in the thick of the Big Eight race and are playing outstanding baseball.

Parker leads the Big Eight with a 7-0 record. The Vikings host two-time defending Division 1 state champion and three-time defending conference champion Sun Prairie (6-1) on Tuesday before Thursday night's showdown with the Cougars.

Craig is 4-1 in the Big Eight, with its only blemish a 7-4 setback to Sun Prairie.

“Craig and Parker is always such a great game, because of the rivalry and the history behind it, but Thursday night's going to be extra special,” Craig coach Vic Herbst said. “Both teams have good records, and we haven't had that in a while.

“And because both teams are playing well, that's going to make it even more fun. I've always said that I'd love to see Parker go 16-2 in the Big Eight every season as long as we go 18-0. It's great for the city, and I expect a real big crowd Thursday night.”

The Cougars have gotten off to a fast start thanks to playing good fundamental baseball.

Despite a lack of varsity experience on the mound, Craig pitchers have walked only 15 batters in six games.

The offense, led by Wyatt Olson and Nick Blomgren, is averaging nearly eight runs a game. Olson and Blomgren are both batting over .500. Craig has stolen 30 bases, including Olson's conference-leading 13.

“We were kind of young coming in, so I wasn't sure what to expect,” Herbst said. “But our guys put the time in during the offseason and were ready to go the first day of practice. We didn't have to spend a lot of time on fundamentals and things.

“And even though we lost to Sun Prairie, that was a confidence-booster for us. These guys know they can play with the state's best, and really, probably we should've won that game.”

Pitching has fueled Parker's early-season surge. The Vikings have allowed two earned runs or less in six of seven conference games.

Left-hander Hunter Van Zandt is 3-0 on the season, including 2-0 in the Big Eight. He blanked state-ranked Middleton, 13-0, and followed that up with a 5-1 win over Beloit Memorial. Van Zandt is averaging nearly 10 strikeouts per start.

Parker's offense has been productive up and down the lineup. Cullen Osmond is an ideal leadoff hitter with good speed and power, while the 2-3-4 hitters in Zach Bailey, Logan Coulter and Will Theisen are finding ways to get on base and drive in runs.

Former Parker coach and Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame member Dan Madden, who guided the Vikings to the 1977 state title, said the resurgence of baseball in the city is exciting.

“This has always been such a great baseball town,” Madden said. “To see both city schools having the success they are is good to see.”

Jefferson piling up wins and runs

Tom Hanks and Geena Davis starred in the 1992 baseball movie “A League of Their Own.”

Heath Renz and the Jefferson Eagles seem to be starring in an updated version.

Led by the hard-throwing Renz, Jefferson is clearly in a league of its own halfway through the Rock Valley Conference season.

The Eagles are 10-0, including 6-0 in the conference. Jefferson is averaging 14.8 runs per game, including a 39-run outburst in a win over Brodhead/Juda last Tuesday. That marked the fifth time this season the Eagles have scored at least 17 runs in a game.

Jefferson came into the season ranked No. 1 in Division 2 but may be the best team in the state in any division.

Edgerton coach Mike Gregory said before the season started he would be shocked if Jefferson didn't win state, calling them “one of the best teams to ever come out of the Rock Valley.”

Jefferson and Edgerton were co-champions a year ago and both returned a wealth of talent this year. The Eagles swept the Crimson Tide in a doubleheader earlier this month, winning 7-0 and 17-1.

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