April 04, 2012 | 07:58 AMWILLIAMS BAY — Last season was a revelation for the Williams Bay baseball team.
For the first time in 16 years, the boys picked up a playoff victory before falling to Burlington Catholic Central in the regional final.
This season, the team welcomes new head coach Jamie Higgins, an assistant last season.
Higgins, a 1994 Williams Bay graduate, is a former Bulldog baseball player and college football standout. He also is an assistant coach for the Williams Bay football team. Higgins replaces former coach Charley Mestek, who stepped down shortly after last season.
Higgins, a former Williams Bay Recreation Department coach, is hoping to change the culture of a program that hasn't had a winning season since 2002. The Bay finished 3-15 last season.
"I'm ready to take the job," Higgins said. "I'm very excited. We actually look pretty good. We have been focused on defense in practice. Last year we gave up big innings. We are more disciplined than in the past. Last year, we showed up when we felt like it and kids missed practices and games. I am going to focus on keeping their minds in the games and learning the game."
Higgins said in the early stages of practice, he has been "starting from scratch" defensively. He wants to shore up things defensively because the hitting will come.
The Bay must replace four starters, including all conference outfielder Scott Holmes, Jeremy Wellhausen, John Conlin and Keanu Westphal.
The Bulldogs welcome seven returning letterwinners, led by senior pitcher and infielder Jerid Bauscher. Other key returners are seniors Jorge Huerta and Anthony Flores; juniors Jake Sutter and Tony Gonzalez; and sophomores Ryan Bonamarte and James Woss.
Bonamarte is the team's leading returning hitter. Sutter is the squad's top pitcher, with 52 strikeouts in 42-2/3 innings last season. Sutter struck out 12 and allowed three earned runs in the team's 5-3 playoff victory last season.
Senior Lawrence Crement, who will also play golf, is new to the team. Crement should see some time on the mound. Other newcomers will include sophomores Jonah VanVleet, Ashton Hartmann, a transfer from Alden-Hebron, Ill., Frank Flores, Nathan Langenhoff, A.J. Sanders and Zach Smith along with freshmen Jake Clark, Alex Guss and Cadin O'Connor.
"Everyone will get playing time in nonconference games," Higgins said.
Sutter, who spearheaded offseason workouts in the gym over the winter, is a captain along with Bauscher. Higgins is looking to them for leadership.
Bauscher and Sutter should lead the pitching staff, according to Higgins.
"Jerid has a very good arm," Higgins said. "And Sutter has good experience and baseball savvy. He has a great changeup and curveball. He can mix it up."
So far, Higgins has seen a change in effort this season.
"I've been very pleased," he said. "The guys aren't giving up on balls after committing errors. They're talking to each other on the field and not yelling at each other anymore. They are working hard, and I'm proud of them."
Higgins would like to approach the .500 mark in terms of record, but he understands it could be a rebuilding year.
"I would love wins, but I just want them to get the basics down," he said. "I want them to learn more."
In the Trailways Conference, Higgins expects Pardeeville, Johnson Creek and Deerfield to be contenders.
The Bulldogs open the season against rival Big Foot Monday. Higgins said the team will be short-handed, with eight players missing the first game due to ineligibility. However, five of the eight will be back for the second game April 10.
"I would like to see great defense and better pitching to start," Higgins said.