Janesville Craig faces hot Middleton Cardinals
Middleton High School’s baseball team began the season as the state’s top-ranked Division 1 team.
But after a 3-4 start, coach Tom Schmitt wasn’t sure what direction the Cardinals were headed.
His answer came in the form of an 11-game winning streak that seemed to solve most of the early season troubles.
“We struggled early with our pitching,” Schmitt said. “And not having Aaron (Gowan) to start the year hurt us, as well. Once he got on the field, that really solidified the infield.”
Middleton (20-6) plays Janesville Craig (21-5-1) in a WIAA Division 1 state quarterfinal game at 1 p.m. today at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute. The teams split during the Big Eight Conference season.
This is the Cardinals’ 10th trip to state, including a 2003 state title in one of their four previous appearances since 2002.
Big Eight champion Middleton lost a doubleheader to a good Wausau West team early in the season, but Schmitt said the losses were a good wakeup call.
“We played pretty bad ball and were still with them,” Schmitt said of the 7-5 and
6-4 losses. “This team knew it was capable of playing much better baseball, and for the most part, we did after that.”
The Cardinals will send right-hander Shane Adler to the mound against the Cougars. The junior and Big Eight Player of the Year is 8-0 this season, including a 10-1 win over Craig. Adler’s ERA is a miniscule 1.09, and he has struck out 71 in 60 innings.
Offensively, Middleton is averaging nearly seven runs a game. Adler’s .387 batting average leads the team, and with seven starters batting over .300, it’s no surprise that the Cardinals are hitting .330 as a team. Travis Martin, Brooks Braga and Derek Layton are all hitting .350 or better, and the Cardinals have banged out 10 home runs.
“We’ve got a great group of seniors who have mixed well with the underclassmen,” Schmitt said. “And we’re playing our best baseball of the season at the right time.
“What helps is that so many of our players are two- or three-sport athletes who have had success in other sports.”
Schmitt knows he will see a much different Craig team than the one the Cardinals beat 10-1, late in the regular season. Like the Cardinals, the Cougars are playing their best ball of the season and have won eight of their last nine games.
Craig beat Middleton, 9-4, in the first meeting this season, but that was without Adler on the mound.
Schmitt thinks having played Craig twice has its advantages and disadvantages.
“Obviously, there is some familiarity for both teams,” Schmitt said. “You’ve been able to chart certain hitters or certain pitchers, but what it really comes down to is who comes to play that day.
“Craig’s got a nice team, and any time you get to state, you know you’re playing pretty good ball.”