Janesville Craig baseball looks for repeat success
Coach Vic Herbst is cautiously optimistic that it can.
“I like this group because it’s a good mix of kids coming back that had valuable varsity experience last year, and some talented juniors that should be able to step right in and contribute,” said Herbst, whose team went 21-6-1 and finished second in the Big Eight Conference last season.
“We’re still going to be fairly young, but we’ve got good depth and versatility.”
The Cougars, who open the season Saturday with a nonconference doubleheader against Oconomowoc at Riverside Park, return five starters.
Heading the list are pitchers Mike Davis and Cody Steed. Davis, a senior right-hander, and Steed, a junior right-hander, logged valuable varsity innings a year ago and should give the Cougars a strong 1-2 punch.
“Cody is throwing with a lot more confidence this year, and a lot of that has to do with adding a slider to the pitches he can now throw for strikes,” Herbst said.
“Mike is what I would call a ‘cagey’ pitcher. He has the ability to mix things up because he has great control of three different pitches. Those two are going to keep us in a lot of games.”
Also expected to pitch are senior Austin Gellar and junior Jameson Henning, along with juniors Mitch Phillips, Tom Yaucher, Andrew Iverson and Tyler Bloom.
“Henning probably has the ‘livest’ arm on the team,” Herbst said. “He’s probably going to be used late in games. “And Gellar very quietly had a solid year for us on the mound last season.”
Senior Christian DeCremer will start in center field, with junior Kyle Ausen likely to start in left, and Yaucher in right. Senior Tyler Splan and Iverson also can play anywhere in the outfield.
“Christian has the ability to be what I would call a ‘five-tool’ player,” Herbst said. “He gets to everything in the outfield, and I think, offensively, he’s going to be very productive.”
Phillips and senior Luke Spry are battling for the starting spot at third base, while Henning is a solid replacement at shortstop for Zach Bayreuther, a two-time All-Big Eight selection.
“Jameson is going to be exciting to watch,” Herbst said. “You don’t replace someone like a Bayreuther, but Jameson does a lot of things well. He just needs the varsity experience.”
Geller, along with junior Mitch Perkins, have been battling for the starting spot at second base. Senior Tom McCulloch, as well as Bloom and Davis, will get playing time at first base.
The Cougars are in good hands behind the plate. Junior Charlie Meyer is back after starting the majority of the games last season.
“Charlie kind of got thrown into the fire last year as a sophomore, but he went above and beyond the call of duty for us and had a great season,” Herbst said.
“He’s a year older now, and the one thing I’ve picked up on right away is that the game seems to be slowing down a lot for him. And that’s a great sign. I only have to tell him something once, and I know it will get done.”
Juniors Charlie Miller and Nolan Stearns also can catch if needed, along with playing anywhere on the infield.
Defending Big Eight champion Middleton and Sun Prairie are ranked No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, in the Wisconsin Coaches’ Association preseason poll. The Cougars were picked for fifth in the conference, which is fine with Herbst.
“I think we could sneak up to as high as third in our conference, depending on how the back half of our pitching staff comes along,” Herbst said. “And Middleton and Sun Prairie are not in our sectional, which is one less thing to worry about in the tournament.
“The one thing you can’t control is the weather. If there are weeks where we have to play four of five games, then it is really important that your pitching develops.
“We’re not going to have the ‘pop’ in the lineup that we had the last couple seasons, but we’re going to be quicker, especially at the top of the lineup. Everyone is excited to get started.”
Craig’s schedule, with home games at Riverside Park:
(5 p.m. starting time unless indicated)
APRIL: 3—Oconomowoc (doubleheader), 1 p.m.; 6—At Sun Prairie, 4:30 p.m.; 8—At Beloit Memorial; 13—Madison La Follette; 17—At Madison Memorial (doubleheader), 11 a.m.; 20—At Janesville Parker; 22—Madison East; 27—At Madison West; 29—Verona.
MAY: 4—Sun Prairie; 8—Middleton (doubleheader), 11 a.m.; 11—Beloit Memorial; 13—At Madison La Follette; 18—Janesville Parker; 20—At Madison East; 22—Fort Atkinson, 11 a.m.; 25—Madison West; 27—At Verona.