Lakeside Lutheran baseball at state for first time
Trailing Watertown Luther Prep by one game in the race for the Capitol Conference title, Lakeside (20-8) faced a stretch of four games in five days, culminating in what would be a battle for first place.
The Warriors knocked off Lake Mills, Poynette and Columbus by a combined 23-8 before ultimately losing the conference showdown to Luther Prep, 8-4.
But the rugged schedule got the Warriors battle-tested just in time for postseason play.
“We really became tournament tested the last week of regular season,” said Hahn, now in his 12th season as head coach. “We had to win games on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Winning the first three games was like a tournament situation.
“That week got us ready for the one-and-done mentality.”
And set the Warriors up for a push to the WIAA Division 2 state semifinals where they are scheduled to play Bloomer
(26-3) at 6 tonight at Fox Cities Cities Stadium in Grand Chute.
Although it’s the Warriors first visit to Grand Chute, the school made five previous state tournament trips to the private school event—the last coming in 1995—before the WISAA schools gained WIAA membership.
But this trip is different.
“You didn’t have to win five games to get to state,” Hahn said. “You only had to win twice.”
Getting to Grand Chute, however, required the Warriors to win two games in one day, which they did in the Chilton sectional with a 5-4, 10-inning win over perennial power Waupun, and a 6-1 victory over Wisconsin Lutheran in the sectional final.
Lakeside’s big season didn’t come completely out of the blue. The Warriors returned seven starters to a team that finished 11-9 last year.
Hahn, in fact, figured he could count on four solid starters to anchor the pitching rotation.
“Things were lined up,” Hahn said. “We thought we had four starting pitchers coming back.”
But arm injuries knocked No. 2 starter Cody Soukup and No. 3 starter Cory Loppnow out of the rotation. Hahn moved Loppnow to third base and Loppnow to centerfield. The No. 4 starter, Connor Vredeveld, moved to catcher and drove in 22 runs from the No. 2 spot in the order.
Loppnow, meanwhile, flourished at his new position, hitting .388 in the lead-off spot, scoring 42 runs, belting a team-high three home runs and stealing 19 bases without being caught.
“He really set the table for us,” Hahn said.
Senior Brian Klug became a revelation on the mound. He finished 7-1 with a 2.36 ERA. Projected No. 1 starter Cole Strohbusch was 5-2 with a 4.04 ERA.
“As we got going through the year and found out who could throw, the pitching got to be consistent,” Hahn said. “Having to experiment (in the early season) turned out to be a blessing.”
Offensively, the Warriors have been solid at the top and middle of the order.
Shortstop Justin Eternick (.367, 27 RBIs), Strohbusch (.295, 26 RBIs) and leftfielder Justin Brockman .408, 24 RBIs) bat 3-4-5 in Hahn’s order. Rightfielder Tyler Guenterberg hit .333 with a team-high 27 RBIs. Soukup hit just .188, but drove in 14. First baseman Tyler Buss hit .283 and Klug, who played second when not pitching, hit .250.
Hahn couldn’t talk about his team without mentioning Aaron Struck.
The junior fell ill the night before the sectional tournament and told Hahn he’d be unable to play.
As the sectional day wore on, Struck began to feel better. He hopped into a car with his mother for the two-hour drive to Chilton, where he pitched the last four innings of the victory over Wisconsin Lutheran.
So what kind of chances do the Warriors have in the four-team field?
It’s our feeling if we play the way we’ve been playing, we can beat anybody,” said Hahn, whose team has allowed just two runs per game in the last six games. “I don’t think we’re the favorite. A lot of people will say we’re the dark horse.”