Preview: DII Expects Excellence

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.”

D1 Preview

A year removed from a trip to the Regional tournament, the D1 Wisconsin Club Baseball team has rebuilt itself into a contender poised to make some noise in the playoffs.

“I fully expect a conference championship and a Regional berth. I personally don’t think this team should be happy with anything less than a World Series run,” said head coach Jeff Block. “The talent is there but we need to continue to put in the work.”

The Badgers graduated five seniors who all played a key role on last year’s team. Rory Menzer, Parker Sear, Sean Blythe and Chris Hase were all starters on last year’s club. They also lost starting pitcher Logan August.

However they have a strong returning rotation. Sophomore Nick Newburg, who finished fifth in the nation in ERA last year with a stellar 0.88 mark, will be back on the bump.

Sophomore Austin Mullins, who was named to the Great Lakes All-Region Second Team as a relief pitcher, returns as well. Junior Griffin Lynch, who has been one of the team’s top starters the past two seasons, will also hurl for the Badgers this spring.

Additionally, Wisconsin has reloaded on the hill, adding junior Mike Hansen, a junior-college transfer and junior Alex Noel, a transfer from Division 1 South Dakota State. Both will compete for starting spots in the rotation according to Block.

“The addition of Hansen and Noel is going to be huge for our pitching staff and I think both of them can contribute at a high level right away,” Newburg said.

Sophomores Evan Polce and Ben Horman could also figure in the starting rotation. Both are hard-throwing right-handers who have shown devastating stuff. The Badgers pitching staff will be deep this spring, an asset that is needed if they want to bring home the hardware.

“I think it is very important that our middle relievers, who might not see a ton of work during the regular season, realize their importance come playoff time when we have the possibility of playing five 9-inning games in the matter of three days,” Block said. “It’s usually those guys that make the difference between a trip to the Regionals and a trip to the World Series.”

Offensively, the Badgers lost several big bats and will need a new core to step up at the plate. Freshman Tyler Safgren, who hails from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, could be one of those guys. A powerful right-handed hitter who catches and plays first, Safgren said he hopes to be a “consistent player the team can rely on” this season.

Junior Aaron Peterson, another powerful right-handed bat, should also help to fill the holes left by the three and four hitters who graduated. Peterson, who plays third, has high expectations for the 2016 campaign.

“I think we have a group of guys that is largely intact from last year and gained a lot of experience,” Peterson said. “Everyone knows what it takes to win now.”

Sophomore third basemen Colten DeMorett, a transfer student who played baseball at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, should help the Badgers offensively as well. He earned three hits in the series against the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the fall, where the Badgers took two out of three games.

Newburg also believes that sophomore outfielder Ed Olson will improve on his performance from last year and play an important role in the middle of the lineup. Sophomore second basemen Brian Mariska was named to the Great Lakes All-Region Second Team and will look to build on his strong 2015 campaign.

Despite the talent in the lineup, the Badgers will have to be more consistent at the plate, according to Newburg.

“A lot of the games we lost [last year] were one-run games where one hit here or there would’ve won us the game,” Newburg said.

Block also recognizes the inconsistency as an issue for Wisconsin, but said this can be made up with the brand of small ball that the Badgers work hard on perfecting all off-season.

“This fall showed us that we could put up some serious numbers, but also that we weren’t immune to going cold like we did in the Eau Claire series,” Block said. “If the team buys into that [small ball] philosophy and executes when it counts, then this team should be above average offensively.”

Wisconsin kicks off their season in just four short weeks in sunny Tampa, Florida. Immediately following the week of Spring Training, the Badgers will begin the regular season in pursuit of a conference championship.

“If we all can play up to our abilities each weekend, it will be a fun season,” Peterson said.