Janesville Craig and Beloit Turner spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the state in Division 1 and Division 2, respectively.
The Milton Red Hawks advanced to a sectional title game.
So naturally, those three teams dominate The Gazette’s all-area baseball team.
Of the 16 players selected, 11 were on one of those three teams. Craig has five players on the team, while Milton and Turner have three each.
Led by player of the year Mitchell Woelfle of Craig, this year’s team brought home plenty of hardware between all-state, all-district and all-conference honors.
Stepping into the box against Preston Viens was not a pleasant experience this season.
The Turner junior right-hander finished 9-1 with a save in earning all-Rock Valley Conference first-team honors and all-District recognition. He had a 1.75 ERA and held opponents to a batting average under .200.
“Preston did such a great job of pounding the zone, that he forced teams to have to adjust and be aggressive because he was always ahead in the count,” Turner coach Jeff Clowes said.
“He only walked 12 in 60 innings and averaged a strikeout an inning. He was the best pitcher in our league.”
Evan Jackson was a big reason the Milton Red Hawks were one win away from the program’s first state tournament berth.
The sophomore right-hander eliminated 2018 Division 1 state-runner up Arrowhead in a regional final game and shut down Janesville Parker in a sectional semifinal game.
Jackson finished with a 7-3 record and a 2.49 ERA. He had 55 strikeouts in 59 innings in earning first-team all-Badger South honors.
“For Evan to have the type of year he did for us on the mound as a sophomore is pretty amazing,” Milton coach Kris Agnew said. “He pitched in some big games for us and never got rattled.
“He had 10 quality starts and got stronger as the year went on.”
Eli Hoscheit was the heart and soul for Orfordville Parkview and earned all-Trailways South first-team recognition for the second straight season.
The recent graduate went 6-1 on the mound with a 1.55 ERA. Opponents hit 1.44 against him and he struck out 57 in 54 innings.
At the plate, Hoscheit hit .342 with eight doubles and 12 stolen bases.
“Eli might be the most competitive kid I’ve ever coached,” Parkview’s TJ Stassi said. “He’s a phenomenal kid. A kid that you don’t replace.
“He kept us in every game he pitched, and as our lead-off hitter, he got our offense going.”
Catching was a big question mark heading into the season for Janesville Craig. Clark Schmaling quickly gave the Cougars the answer they were looking for.
The recent graduate was all-Big Eight first team selection thanks to a .982 fielding percentage, which included no passed balls the entire season.
Schmaling batted .328 and scored a team-high 29 runs. He also led the team with 21 walks.
“Clark did a tremendous job stepping in as our starting catcher and performed well above our expectations,” Craig coach Victor Herbst said. “Defensively, he was solid all season, and at the plate his patience was great.”
Cooper Pease was Mr. Everything for the Whitewater Whippets.
The junior gobbled up everything behind the plate and was a hitting machine at the plate.
Pease hit .464 with 21 runs scored, 15 stolen bases and 16 RBI.
“Cooper had a great year for us,” said his father and former coach Jim Pease. “He led us in just about every offensive category.
“And he did a great job behind the plate. Nobody really did or even tried to run on him.”
A two-time all-Big Eight first-team selection, Dan Blomgren capped off a prolific prep career by being named to the all-state first team as a shortstop.
The University of Michigan recruit hit .419 with 27 runs scored, a conference-high 45 total bases and 12 stolen bases. He had a on-base percentage of .558.
“Dan was probably the best all-around player in the Big Eight this season,” Herbst said. “He led our team in so many offensive categories and was a big reason for team’s success this year.”
Freshmen aren’t normally found on The Gazette’s all-area team, but Keegan Knutson wasn’t a typical freshman.
The Milton third baseman and lead-off hitter burst onto the season with a sparkling freshman campaign. He hit .351 with an on-base percentage of .445. He had a team-high 33 hits, 30 runs scored, 29 stolen bases and struck out only twice all season.
“I would say in the majority of our games, Keegan was the best player on the field,” Agnew said. “”He was our go-to guy and made things happen at the top of the order.
“But I’m not surprised he had the year he did. He’s a baseball junkie and has been taught how to play the game the right way.”
Janesville Parker made a surprising run to a Division 1 sectional berth and Jared Emerson was a big reason why.
The junior hit .340 with 10 doubles and had an on-base percentage of .450.
Defensively, Emerson was a vacuum at first base, finishing with an impressive .992 fielding percentage.
“I don’t think there’s any question that Jared was the best first baseman in the Big Eight,” Parker coach Kerry Michaels said. “He probably failed to scoop maybe one or two balls in the dirt all season and saved us a few runs with his glove.
“And hitting No. 3 for us most of the season, he came up with a lot of clutch hits and found ways to get on base.”
Drew Ries was a triple threat for Turner this season.
The junior hit .355 for the season, finished with a 5-1 record on the mound with a save and was the cornerstone of the Trojans’ defense at third base. Ries was a unanimous all-Rock Valley first-team selection.
“Drew’s a weight room rat, and it really paid off for him,” Clowes said. “He’s a three-sport star, and no matter what he’s competing in, he goes all out.
“He’s only begun to scratch the surface of how good he can be baseball-wise, and I really believe he’ll play college ball somewhere.”
Cory Walker was the quiet assassin for Turner this season.
The recent graduate put together a monstrous season in earning first-team all-state recognition.
Walker hit a robust .467, with 24 RBI.
On the mound, the left-hander went 5-0 with a 2.49 ERA.
“Cory’s the kind of kid that just keeps his head down and works hard,” Clowes said. “I can guarantee you that if you asked him what his batting average was for the season or how many wins he had, he wouldn’t know.
“He’s a quiet kid that leads by example. I think everybody knows how good he really is, and why he was first-team all-state and is going to play in the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association all-star games.”
The season started with a bang for Eric Hughes. He homered in his first at-bat of the season and continued to produce after that in earning all-Big Eight first-team honors.
The Craig junior hit .356, stole 14 bases and tied Blomgren for the team-lead in hits with 26.
“Hughes was our most-improved player,” Herbst said. “He really developed as a player in the offseason. With his speed and size, he’s going to be one of the best players in our conference next year.”
Carson Hill capped off his stellar high school career by being to the Rock Valley’s first team for the second year in a row.
Hill finished with a .377 batting average, including .422 in the conference, and had a slugging percentage of .551. He had two triples, scored 19 runs and finished with 10 stolen bases.
“What’s most impressive is that he hit over .500 with runners in scoring position,” Evansville coach Brian Cashore said.
Defensively, Hill was outstanding. He did not commit an error all season in patrolling center field and teams were hesitant to run on his arm.
“Carson was as good as it gets defensively,” said Cashore. “With his speed, he could track down anything.
“He was just an excellent all-around player.”
The Elkhorn Elks advanced to a Division 2 sectional semifinal game this season and Chance Larson was a big reason why.
The senior hit .444 for the Elks in earning first-team all-Southern Lakes recognition. He had an OPS of 1.167 and finished with 26 RBI, 25 runs scored, seven doubles and 11 steals.
UtilityMicah Overley played the utility role to perfection for Craig. The recent graduate played third base, first base and was the team’s No. 2 pitcher en route to being named all-Big Eight first team.
The Milwaukee School of Engineering recruit batted .317 with a team-high 22 RBI and was 4-0 as a pitcher with a 1.83 ERA.
“Micah was an outstanding two-way player for us,” Herbst said. “He was one of our team captains and led by example with his hard work each and every day.”
Despite missing five games with an injury, Ben Wileman led the all-area team in home runs and was a first-team all-Rock Valley selection.
The Edgerton junior hit three home runs and batted .362. He had an OPS of 1.155 and finished with 20 RBI.
“Ben was a model of consistency for us,” Edgerton coach Mike Gregory said. “It’s too bad he got hurt, because he was having a really good year. The game before he got hurt, he had hit two home runs.”
Ethan Haefner was a jack-of-all-trades for Milton this season. The junior left-hander had a 2-1 record with three saves in 16 appearances, striking out 24 in 24-plus innings pitched and was first-team all-Badger South.
At the plate, Haefner batted .397 with an on-base percentage of .515. He had 17 RBI, 31 hits and scored 11 runs.
“Ethan was about as clutch as you could get for us this season,” Agnew said. “He came up in some big spots at the plate and usually delivered. And on the mound, he came into some really tough situations and was able to get us out of some tight jams.”