Janesville Craig baseball continues to be a state powerhouse.
The Cougars have played at state in three of the last five seasons, including winning the 2015 WIAA Division 1 state title with a 29-1 record.
Craig has won arguably the state’s best conference—the Big Eight—four of the last five years.
Will that dominance continue into the 2021 season?
Craig coach Vic Herbst said missing the entire 2020 season because of COVID-19 restrictions makes it too early to tell.
“With not having a season last year, the Cougars are going to be a work in progress,” Herbst said.
“With no real varsity experience, we will be using a lot of our early season time getting the players acclimated to how we want to do things on the diamond, and get ting them used to the speed of the game at the varsity level.”
Craig finished the 2019 season with a 20-3 record, including 17-1 in winning the Big Eight.
The Cougars spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the state by wissports.net.
Six players were named first- or second-team all-Big Eight.
Unfortunately, none of them return for the 2021 season.
Herbst has a good mix of seniors, juniors and sophomores on the roster, with good depth at a number of positions, but inherits an inexperienced pitching staff that will have to come of age quickly. Craig opens the season Tuesday with a Big Eight game at Madison Memorial.
Jack Ryan, a junior, will likely get the start on the mound in the opener. Senior Eric McLevige and junior Patrick Schork are scheduled to follow Ryan in the rotation.
Other likely candidates on the mound are sophomores Aiden Schenk and Devin Gudenschwager, along with seniors Logan Schmitz and Jake Coulter.
Schenk figures to hit third or fourth for Craig and can play first base or the outfield.
Jake Schaffner appears to be next in line of a great list of shortstops that Craig has produced in the last several years. The Blomgren brothers—Jack and Dan—both picked up Division 1 scholarships after prolific prep careers, and Schaffner could be headed down the same path.
Joe Stried, a sophomore, will likely start at second base to open the season but can also play short or third base.
Other second and third base candidates are seniors Logan Schmitz and Tanner Pearsall, along with juniors Carson Herbst, Jack Nickols and Hunter Klietz.
Senior Isaac Stried is battling for the starting spot at first base.
Josh Udelhofen and Jake Hansen—both seniors—are vying for the starting catching spot.
“We’re going to be young with numerous underclassmen on the roster, but they have the tools to compete for time on the diamond,” coach Herbst said.
Sophomore Jack Adams will be the team’s top utility player, according to Herbst, and can play on the infield or outfield, depending who is pitching at the time.
Schork, Schenk and Ryan, along with McLevige, are battling for the three outfield spots. Other outfield candidates are junior Trey Bock, along with Gudenschwager and Coulter.
Herbst said the most important thing with this year’s young team is to enjoy the journey and not worry so much about the final destination.
“At the end of the day, it is great to be back out on the diamond with the players practicing and getting ready to compete and play high school baseball,” Herbst said.