Wisconsin athletics prides itself on being consistently competitive at the highest levels. Club Baseball at UW is no different.
Much like the Division I team, the DII team expects to return to the World Series in Pittsburg, Kansas in May.
The DII team made it to the World Series in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and has qualified for Regionals consistently since the NCBA expanded to two divisions.
That tradition of post-season competition weighs heavily on the minds of the DII team.
“After missing the regional tournament for the first time in four years we will not have a problem finding motivation,” head coach Austin Grimm said.
Grimm’s DII team is one of the most talented that he has had.
“This team may be the best hitting team we have had in DII history on paper.” Grimm said.
“We are still going to rely on small ball and base running to get runners in scoring position like the past but there will be more doubles and homeruns this year than years past.”
Headlining the offensive attack is outfielder and designated hitter Tony DeBartolo. DeBartolo won Player of the Week honors in the Fall after the series against Bradley.
“DeBartolo, (Vinson) Mulvey and (Jake) Poeske are all great hitters and will be the middle of our lineup. Tony DeBartolo has a ton of power and will drive in a lot of runs this year,” Grimm said.
“Mulvey will work the count and is not afraid to hit with two strikes. He will kill you with singles to the opposite field and loves fouling pitches off to irritate the pitcher until he gets his pitch.”
Poeske hopes to rebound in 2016 and make major contributions in the middle of the lineup, as well.
“Poeske has a little bit of everything. He has power to all fields and is a guy who was in a bit of a slump in spring of 2015, but is expected to have an all-conference type of year in 2016,” Grimm said.
“Top to bottom, the lineup is pretty loaded,” sophomore catcher Bobby Ehrlich said. “Right now I’d say you’re looking at (Jacob) Budnik as a potential seven-hitter and he has quite a bit of pop in his bat.”
The depth of the DII team will bode well for them as they have a lot of players that have the ability to succeed.
“Using the DII reenter rule having this kind of depth can be game changing,” Grimm said. “If you need speed we can put in speed to steal a base or if we need more range we can put in one of our best pitchers once he is done on the mound.”
Not only is the DII depth capable, it is motivated as well.
“The players now know the importance of each game after missing the district championship title by one game last year,” said Grimm. “The team has an outside chance to get back to the World Series.”
Some of the more outspoken players on the team have expressed disagreement with Grimm’s statement regarding the World Series.
“I think we have more than an outside chance at getting to the World Series,” said Ehrlich. “I think most of us see that as an expectation with the squad we have this year.”
Offensively, the team can make some waves, but the pitching staff has some work to do to prove itself.
Assistant coach Bill Calawerts is excited about the progress that the DII pitchers have continued to make.
“Alec Nelson is the pitcher I’m really excited about,” said Calawerts. “He arguably has the best ‘stuff’ of any pitcher in the program.
“I’ve heard comparisons to Nuke from Bull Durham. He could be the guy that goes out and walks the bases loaded on 12 straight pitches. However, he’s also the same guy that can strike out 3 in a row on 9 straight.”
Perhaps the most important piece to the DII pitching staff is the leadership provided by junior Andrew Wolfe.
“The kid is just a competitor,” Calawerts said. “His ability to locate and set-up hitters with his wide array of pitches that make him successful. We’re looking forward to him taking a leadership role with our pitchers this year.”
“We have set ourselves up for success in the fall just need to keep working. We need to get our pitching locked down because we have solid starters,” Wolfe said.
If the team can find the proper combination, it could make for a phenomenal season.
“Finding the mix to have the best offensive and defensive efficiency will be the biggest question mark,” said Grimm. “This team will be led by its offensive firepower and returning some solid pitching will help us make a championship run.”