The Southern Division has never been a piece of cake for the area’s Rock River League baseball teams.
In nearly a decade, the Janesville Aces and Milton Raptors have combined to win just two Southern titles and advanced to just two RRL Grand Championships—the Raptors accounting for all of those accomplishments in 2012 and 2013.
Life is about to get even tougher for the clubs.
With two former Southern Division teams now out of the league, Hustisford, the reigning league champion, has moved from the Northern Division, giving the RRL two 10-team divisions.
Hustisford also won the amateur baseball league’s title in 2015 and was runner-up in 2016.
“You welcome that kind of competition, because it means you’re going to get a game every week,” Milton coach Doug Welch said. “There aren’t going to be any gimmes this year, at all. Every time you show up, you’d better come to play.”
The RRL season begins Sunday, with Janesville hosting Johnson Creek and Milton hosting Lebanon.
Along with Hustisford, Clyman and Neosho figure to once again be top Southern Division contenders. Clyman edged Milton in the Southern Division Finals to earn a spot in the Grand Championship last year, while Neosho was league champion in 2016.
“It should be interesting,” Aces coach David Gackstatter said. “The champion from the North joins the South, so now, in my opinion, we’re going to have the two best teams in the league in our division. Neosho is always a front-runner, and then Clyman is another great team, and you throw Hustisford in the mix, too.
“It’s a step in the right direction for the league. It just makes the overall level of competition more consistent.”
Aces return core
Gackstatter said the Aces, sponsored by East Point Sportz Pub, will return a solid core of its players from last year’s team that finished 7-9.
Leading the way is third baseman Cal McClellan, who led the South in batting average at .475. And shortstop Austin Gellar returns after hitting .379 with a team-best 16 runs scored last season.
“We have a lot of starters returnings, as well as some fresh new faces and college kids joining us for the first time ... in June,” Gackstatter said. “It’s looking good.”
Gackstatter also said he’ll get some additional coaching help, which should allow him to focus more on his game on the field.
Raptors sorting things out
Milton relied on recent Janesville high school graduates Hunter Van Zandt and Alex Marro to get to the RRL semifinals a year ago. But with Marro pitching in college at South Dakota State and Van Zandt deciding to step away from the game, Welch will likely need to turn to veteran arms, especially early on.
Brothers Sam and Sean McCann and the father-son tandem of Tom and T.J. Klawitter all could see early action on the mound.
Milton also added a couple players from the former Madison Rockers team to its roster. Included in that mix is reigning co-Southern Division MVP Brian Kushava.
This will be the ninth season in the RRL for the Raptors, who are sponsored by Junction Pub. They’ve made the playoffs in seven of the past eight years.
“We’re kind of back to relying on some of our veteran guys,” Welch said. “Hopefully we can get into the playoffs and make another deep run.”
Home Talent League already one week in
Play in the amateur Home Talent League began last weekend.
The league champions have come out of the Southeast Section the past two years, with Stoughton winning last year and Albion taking the crown in 2016.
Last Sunday, Albion opened play with an 8-1 home win over Fort Atkinson, while Evansville beat host Cambridge 8-7 and Clinton fell 9-0 at Jefferson.