Baseball Cards hope to surprise again

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton’s baseball team is hoping for a big season from senior Kevin Sheehan./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Twelve months ago, Middleton manager Brent Jorgensen began the season with a long list of questions — and very few answers.

Jorgensen and the Cardinals had eight starters to replace. The pitching staff was devoid of experience. And the everyday lineup was one giant uncertainty.

Jorgensen proceeded to push all the right buttons, several players emerged and Middleton produced a memorable season — highlighted by its first trip to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament since 2016.

Now, one year later, Jorgensen finds himself in a nearly identical position.

Middleton once again lost eight starters to graduation from its 2023 team. There is little returning experience on the Cardinals’ pitching staff. And the lineup will be a work in progress.

Now, the question becomes can Jorgensen once again work his magic and lead a young and inexperienced Middleton team to great heights?

“Anything is possible in high school sports, so it's hard to predict how things will go when you have an experienced team,” said Jorgensen, Middleton’s sixth-year skipper. “With having a very inexperienced team this year, it makes it that much harder to make a prediction. However, I really like our depth and talent level this year.

“We can do very well in the regular season and beyond, but we need to continue to develop and improve each week. It's going to be a challenge to replicate the success that our team had last year, but I think we are up to the task.

“Our biggest challenge will be putting together all of the details that don't show up in the box score and making sure we execute at a higher rate than our opponents. It will be an ongoing process, but it is one of the things that makes this season exciting.”

Middleton lost six all-Big Eight Conference players to graduation, including first-team all-league pitchers Jacob Guerrero and Noah Schmitt. Four-year shortstop Hayden Hellenbrand, standout catcher Wyatt Baird, center fielder Jackson Rademacher and first baseman Alden Cleary are all gone, as well.

Middleton does return second baseman Jackson Guerrero, who earned honorable-mention all-conference honors as a freshman. Guerrero batted .263 and had a terrific year in the field.

“Jackson burst onto the starting scene after a handful of conference games had passed,” Jorgensen said of Guerrero. “In practice and during his early season game experience, Jackson continued to prove that he was one of the best players on our roster and that he should be playing each day.

“He did a great job earning his spot and playing with confidence, despite being an underclassman on a senior-heavy team. Jackson had a great year and it’s going to be very exciting to see his development.”

Junior outfielder Easton Harris played in 21 games last season, primarily as a reserve. Harris had eight RBI and two doubles last year, and should be ready for an expanded role.

“Easton Harris played quite a bit in the outfield last year and will hopefully be a key contributor for us this year as well,” Jorgensen said. “He's worked hard and transformed his body to give himself the best chance of success.”

Senior outfielder/catcher Porter Blaha hit .267 in a limited role last year, but will have far more put on his plate this season.

“Porter Blaha was a role player for us last year and I am excited about what he can bring to the table for us,” Jorgensen said. “He's improved significantly as a hitter and is a great athlete. His work ethic and character are top-notch as well.”

Sophomore catcher Tyler Vogt and junior infielder Ray Feinberg were two reserves last year who will be counted on for bigger things.

“Tyler Vogt played sparingly as a freshman last year but will be a key contributor for us and is a vocal leader already, despite being a young player in the program,” Jorgensen said. “Ray Feinberg was a role player last year and is growing more confident by the day. He is very good at taking coaching and implementing it immediately. I think and hope it will pay off for him.”

Junior outfielder Charlie Tompach was a late-season call-up who gained valuable experience in the Cardinals’ postseason run.

“Charlie is a great communicator and brings great energy,” Jorgensen said. “I think he can play an important role for us in the outfield.” 

Senior Kevin Sheehan and junior Bennett O’Connor will likely anchor Middleton’s pitching staff.

Sheehan threw 27.2 innings last year and posted a 3-3 record. O’Connor has been a standout at the lower levels and seems ready to shine on the varsity stage.

“Kevin mixes all pitches well and is a good competitor,” Jorgensen said. “I'm excited to see him get out there and play an important role for us this year. 

“Bennett will likely play a large role as a pitcher and infielder this year. He is smooth in all he does and has performed well at every level he's competed in so far in high school.”

Others such as Harris, Jackson Guerrero, seniors Logan Kalscheuer, Kyle Pape and Diego Abreu, and juniors Will Gilliland and Tommy Wincek could also see time on the mound.

“We have a lot of players with the ability to get the job done for us,” Jorgensen said. “It will be tough competition for innings this season.”

Other newcomers likely to play key roles include juniors Koeplin Look, Gilliland and Wincek, sophomore Chase Rogers, and seniors Abreu, Pape, Logan Kalscheur and Jack Kalscheur.

Look will battle for the starting catching job or a spot in the infield. Gilliland and Wincek are talented players that could be in the hunt at multiple positions.

“Koeplin’s been one of the most improved players each of the last two years of high school and works extremely hard,” Jorgensen said. “For those who remember Pete Rose, he has a lot of ‘Charlie Hustle’ characteristics to him. 

“Will and Tommy round out the talented juniors who are eager to prove themselves. They have the skillset and work ethic to step up and be contributing factors this season.”

Rogers is a terrific athlete who Jorgensen is excited to see grow.

“Chase has a great head on his shoulders and is a joy to be around,” Jorgensen said. “I'm excited to see his development.”

Jorgensen also believes someone from the senior group of Abreu, Pape, Logan Kalscheur and Jack Kalscheur could emerge.

“They have paid their dues in the program and have worked hard to compete for playing time as seniors,” Jorgensen said. “Every year that I've been in the program (10 total, five as the head coach) we've had at least one 'program player' step up and play a contributing role. I'm not sure which of those players it will be this year, but I'm counting on them.”

Sun Prairie East was picked to win the Big Eight by, while Middleton was tabbed for sixth.

Can the Cardinals surprise once again?

Jorgensen doesn't see any reason why not.

“I expect us to compete hard every day,” he said. “If we do that, I know we'll be in a good position for success. I am very proud of the tradition at this school and it was one of the reasons I wanted to coach here in the first place.

“We have great high school coaches, youth coaches, and athletes. Our players understand the tradition of this place and they are focused on leaving their mark while moving that tradition forward.”

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