Tags: Feature Sports Story
March 28, 2012 | 08:41 AMLast year, the Badger baseball team mustered only two wins, and the first victory didn't come until more than a month into the season.
With eight players lost to graduation, including honorable mention all-conference outfielder Mike McBride, and zero seniors on this season's squad, it may appear the Badgers are in for another uphill climb out of the Southern Lakes cellar.
But that's not the case according to fourth-year coach Aaron Zweifel. He is banking on a tight-knit, "family" feel for this year's team, which was 2-22 last year but features six returning starters.
"Our team chemistry has been our strong point so far," Zweifel said. "And the guys are working hard. Skill-wise, it's hard to tell how far you've come in a year, but the guys have been hitting well in the cages and have been working hard to get more consistent and efficient defensively. I'm excited to get under way with this 'family' of players. They are ready to compete."
Leading the crop of returning talent is junior pitcher Colton Andresen, a second-team all-SLC selection last season. Andresen went 2-6 in 49 innings with 47 strikeouts and a 4.04 earned-run average.
In a playoff-opening 4-3 loss last season at Burlington, Andresen struck out eight batters in six innings.
"Colton Andresen is a three-year starter and should solidify himself as one of the best pitchers in the conference, if not the area," Zweifel said.
Andresen along with junior catcher Peter Krien, junior second baseman Ian Weber, junior shortstop Eric Skipper, junior outfielder/pitcher Jason Marquez and junior third baseman/pitcher Gunner Losch will lead this year's team, which has 14 total players.
"They (our six returning starters) are approaching this year as they should, as if they are seniors. They have set the tone in the locker room and on the field so far. They have a full varsity season under their belts."
In addition to the veterans, Badger will feature several key newcomers. Juniors Trent Bobula and Jonah Zeinert will battle to play first base. Other new faces include juniors Travis Stahulak (outfielder/pitcher), Mitch Jensen (infielder/outfielder), Dustin Berg (infielder/outfielder) and Robbie Sheets (outfielder).
Zweifel said there will be plenty of friendly competition for starting positions. He said Jensen and Losch will battle for third base. Also, Jensen and Stahulak will compete to play left field. Andresen will play center field when he isn't pitching, and Marquez will occupy right field. Krien will be behind the plate, and Skipper (shortstop) and Weber (second base) will lock down the middle infield.
Losch is the team's leading returning hitter with a .286 batting average in 2011, while Andresen batted .270. Marquez hit .229 last year and boasted a 1.50 ERA in six innings.
Marquez, Weber, Skipper, Losch, Zeinert and Stahulak all could see innings on the mound.
Zweifel believes his team can win the Southern Lakes crown.
"We hope to compete every game and put ourselves in position to win in the seventh inning," Zweifel said. "Also, we want to play the game one pitch at a time, improve each week and be at our best entering the playoffs."
This year, Zweifel said the team has a "one pitch warrior mentality."
"We will work to control the controllables, flush it when things go bad, move forward and be in the present," Zweifel said.
Badger opens action with a nonconference doubleheader Saturday at home against Big Foot and Fort Atkinson.
Zweifel said there is still room for improvement, including maturity at the plate, defensive consistency, base running and mental toughness. He said staying mentally tough and dealing well with adversity will be the key to the season.