The pieces are in place for Janesville Parker’s baseball team.
Seven starters return for the Vikings, who open the high school baseball season Tuesday at Riverside Park with a nonconference game against Antigo.
The biggest question heading into the season is whether coach Brian Martin can make the pieces fit.
“It’s definitely a shift from the last two years,” Martin said of his experienced team, which boasts 12 seniors on the roster.
“We’ve got three kids that are going to be in their third year of starting on varsity, and another, Jordan Bailey, that is a four-year starter.
“But that experience doesn’t guarantee us anything. We still have to go out and produce on the field, which I think we will.”
Bailey, a Bradley University recruit, headlines an outfield that returns all three starters. The left-handed hitting and throwing Bailey will start in center, with second-team all-Big Eight selection and senior Sam Garvoille in right and the speedy senior Jadyn Ellis in left.
“Defensively, I really don’t think there’s a better outfield around than ours,” Martin said. “They will track down a lot of balls that are headed for the gap and all throw pretty well, too.”
With Garvoille and Bailey both expected to pitch this season, seniors Chase Hamilton and Dan Curtis are expected to fill in as outfielders.
The infield is led by seniors Kyle Birkett and Sam Nemetz, along with catcher Kade Bohlman.
Nemetz is back at first base after earning second-team all-conference recognition last season, and Birkett starts at short. Bohlman, a UW-Oshkosh recruit, was also a second-team selection a year ago and could also play some third base this season.
“I’m hoping we don’t have to pitch Kyle too much this season, because he’s so valuable for us at short,” Martin said. “And Sam is an excellent fielder and swung the bat pretty well last year, too.
“Kade’s ability to play some third gives us some flexibility, which is always nice to have. And he’s a kid that I think is primed for a big season at the plate.”
Junior Dalton Madsen will likely share the catching and third-base duties with Bohlman, while sophomore Carter Schneider and senior Zach Zahler are battling for the starting job at second base. Senior Sam Buehl is the back-up first baseman.
“For us to be successful, we have to be consistent both at the plate and in the field,” Martin said. “We don’t have a ton of depth, so the guys we do have must maintain a level that is productive.
“And I’m also hoping somebody steps up and surprises us. A kid that maybe we weren’t really counting on but is playing well enough that we can’t keep him out of the lineup.”
Like most high school programs, pitching remains a question mark heading into the season. Martin said he has three upper-tier starters that have logged varsity innings and three more that are going to be counted on during a 22-game schedule.
“The extra week of practice that the WIAA gave us was awesome,” Martin said. “It allowed us to work on actual baseball stuff this week and get some throwing and running in with our pitchers that first week.
“I wouldn’t say we have an ace on the team, but we’ve got five or six guys that I’ll be confident putting out there at the varsity level.”
Garvoille, junior Casey Stone and Bailey are the top three starters. Madsen, Nemetz and Schneider are also expected to take the mound.
One change this year in Big Eight scheduling finds each school playing a home-and-home series against the same opponent Tuesday and Thursday of each week.
Martin is a proponent of it.
“I’m in favor of it,” Martin said. “I think it’s a true indication of the conference standings, because you can’t play matchups anymore. If we face a team’s stud pitcher on Tuesday, we know he can’t pitch against us again on Thursday.”
Parker finished 9-13 overall last season, including 8-10 in the Big Eight.
The pieces are in place for a much-improved Parker team in 2018.