- Evening, Weekend & Online Programs
- ALUMNI RELATIONS
- GIVING TO LAKELAND
- ABOUT LAKELAND
With 17 freshmen, five seniors and a host of players in between with varying levels of experience, the Lakeland College baseball team seems to have quite the learning curve to conquer during the 2008 season.
"We're doing a lot of teaching right now rather than coaching because we're so young," said head coach Chris Thousand. "I hate the word 'rebuilding,' but it's just a lot of learning right now. It's a totally different team from last year, which is fun. They're all young, and they don't know what to expect."
The Muskies hope to use the experience of their five seniors to help make up for the overall youth of their team, and should find a good deal of help from senior pitcher/third baseman Adam Hablewitz (Manitowoc/Lincoln), an honorable mention All-Lake Michigan Conference selection as a sophomore in 2005, and pitchers Kris Saiberlich (Fond du Lac) and Nate Brusewitz (Green Bay/Southwest). Outfielder Paul Smith (Manitowoc/Roncalli) and infielder Chris Daun (Elkhart Lake) will also look to help guide the squad.
"The seniors are doing a great job of leading this team in the early going, but even our upperclassmen don't have much playing experience," Thousand said. "I'm sure that will affect us during the year somehow, but overall I think we'll benefit because our younger players will be able to get a lot of playing time and learn from their mistakes."
Lakeland will also have to compensate for the losses of five talented seniors from last year's squad that went a frustrating 12-22 (8-12 NAC) in 2007 with 11 games lost by just one run.
Third baseman Mitch Heinemeyer, centerfielder Tyler Schmitt and No. 1 pitcher Zach Schmitz were all named honorable mention All-Northern Athletics Conference selections last season, and have left some big holes to fill on both offense and defense, along with the graduation of first baseman/pitcher Brett Anschutz, All-LMC 2004, and catcher Brett Nelson, All-LMC honorable mention 2006.
Schmitt and Heinemeyer led the Muskies at the plate last year with .360 and .330 batting averages, respectively. Heinemeyer, who led the team in home runs with five and RBI with 26, also made his mark on the record books, finishing third on the career list in both batting average (.327) and for doubles (33). He also closed out his career tied for second in all-time home runs with 15.
Anschutz and Nelson also showed power at the plate, as Anschutz hit .346 with nine doubles while Nelson hit .276 with five doubles. With that said, the Muskies have the difficult task of replacing those four power hitters, as they represented the No. 2-5 spots in the batting order. Schmitz also leaves a gap on the mound, as he struck out 42 batters last year and compiled a team-best 2.60 ERA.
This year's squad will get its 2008 debut beginning with its spring break trip of five games. The Muskies will kick off the road trip through Indiana and Ohio with two games at DePauw University on March 15-16. The squad will certainly have to learn fast in order to stay competitive throughout the week, as the schedule also includes Manchester (Ind.), Wilmington (Ohio) and Kenyon (Ohio).
"I'm just nervous to get the games in," said Thousand, who is concerned about the weekend's high snowfall totals in that region and their impact on playing conditions. "The teams are really good, which is the reason why we wanted to go there. We have such a late spring break this year that we thought these teams would be stronger than the ones we would find in Florida. Most of these teams won over 20 games last year except for Wilmington, which plays in one of toughest conferences in the nation. Those games will be a true test of where we are and how we need to improve."
The Muskies may also have their hands full in the talented NAC this season, as multiple teams are projected to return strong squads from last year. The Muskies are picked to repeat their 2007 finish of ninth in the NAC according to the preseason coaches' poll, but Thousand feels that if his squad can be competitive against the tougher teams on its schedule, there is room for improvement.
"Edgewood has everybody back from last year, Concordia Chicago returns their whole offense and their best pitcher," Thousand said. "Rockford and Marian both have solid teams coming back as well, so those will be the big four teams for us to battle with this season. Our defense and our speed should be our strengths, but pitching and offense overall are going to be very young this year, like our whole team."
Despite their youth, the Muskies should get some help from a few of their other returning key contributors from last year's team, including a pair of starters in junior infielder Alex Grant (Libertyville, Ill.) and sophomore outfielder Jacob Heinemeyer (Shiocton), as well as junior Adam Brown (Green Bay/Bay Port) and sophomore catcher Eric Hettmann (Denmark).
Grant started 28 games for the Muskies last season, hitting .295, while Heinemeyer started 23 games and went .279 at the plate. Grant is likely to start at second base this season, while Heinemeyer will continue to serve in the outfield.
Brown appeared in 15 games last season and hit .324, and could be the top pick for starting first baseman in 2008. Hettmann served as the Muskies' primary back-up catcher to Nelson last season, starting 16 games with 90 putouts, but sophomore Brad Chrudimsky (Antigo) and freshman Dave Novak (Algoma) are looking to be the primary candidates to fight him for the starting spot.
"Right now it's probably going to be Eric Hettmann starting at catcher with Dave Novak and Brad Chrudimsky backing him up," Thousand said. "Eric gained a little experience last year splitting time at catcher, and Brad has worked really hard on his offense, and that will help him fight for playing time. Dave really opened some eyes during fall ball and has continued to work hard, so I think it will mostly be those three that will see the playing time at that spot."
Thousand is also pleased with the progress his young team has shown among the members of the pitching staff. The outings that Brusewitz, Saiberlich and Hablewitz can put together on the mound will be a major factor as to how well the Muskies do this season. The trio will also be looked to for leadership with a predominantly young group of pitchers. Brusewitz compiled a 3-2 record last season, and will look to improve on a 5.09 ERA, while Saiberlich is expected to contribute more after struggling with wrist problems.
"Nate Brusewitz is looking to be our No. 1 pitcher," Thousand said. "Adam Hablewitz had to take a year off of throwing last year after having arm surgery, but we're looking to get him back on the mound for us this year as a reliever."
Junior pitchers Jake Van Camp (Green Bay/West) and Mike Phillips (Green Bay/West) will also be expected to step up this year, as the rest of the Muskies' throwers are made up of three sophomores and seven freshmen.
Van Camp struggled somewhat last season with a 6.86 ERA after showing good promise early in the season, and it is hoped that off-season conditioning will help him stay strong as the season wears on. Phillips was one of the squad's top relievers last season, and is expected to contribute much the same this year.
"Mike had a good season last year as a key set-up guy in the bullpen," Thousand said. "He has good control, and we expect to see another step in the right direction this season."
Sophomores Lee Chepil (Ladysmith), Tyler Villiard (Bruce) and Tony DeMuth (Dodgeville) also return to give the Muskies a boost on the mound after seeing limited playing time last year.
"Lee only pitched nine innings last year, but has shown great development in the offseason," Thousand said. "He has come back with a new attitude towards his pitching, and we expect great things from Lee as a starter. Tyler has also re-committed himself to pitching in the offseason, and has more pitches than last year with better control."
Freshmen Alex Ackerman (Algoma), Matt Katzman (Sauk Prairie), Ed Kozlowski (Port Washington), Jeremy Meier (Sauk Prairie), Bill Miller (Appleton/Xavier), Mike Ruzek (Manitowoc/Roncalli) and Eric Zuelsdorf (Cedar Grove) will also look to develop in hopes of breaking into Lakeland's pitching line-up.
"Alex Ackerman has stepped up along with Matt Katzman and Bill Miller," Thousand said. "Alex had a great fall ball season with the team, Matt should get the opportunity to prove himself with some innings, and Bill has great control that helps him when he doesn't have his good stuff. We look for him to find a spot in the rotation."
Although the pitching staff is relatively young, the Muskies' infield should get a boost of experience with some familiar faces. When Hablewitz isn't on the mound, he will likely be the Muskies' starting third baseman, while junior Zach Hilbert (Green Bay/West) or freshman Brad Young (West Bend/West Bend East) will likely start at shortstop.
"Zach is a great athlete, and we look for him to contribute this year," Thousand said. "Brad is a smooth defensive player with a good contact swing, but we are working on building his strength."
Other returnees from last year's squad include junior first baseman Travis Chell (Grantsburg) and sophomore third baseman Doug Novak (Algoma), who will push for playing time along with incoming players.
Freshman Cal Post (Appleton/Appleton Xavier) and Villiard may also see time at first, in addition to Brown and Chell, while Daun, Miller, Katzman and Chrudimsky could also rotate to third to supplement Hablewitz and Novak.
"Cal had to sit out last year with a shoulder injury, but is back to 100 percent now," Thousand said. "Travis has come a long way since his freshman year, and keeps improving his defense every day, and Tyler is a switch hitter that gives the coaching staff some options."
Second baseman Ryan Polizzi (Woodstock, Ill.), pitcher Scott Santarlasci (West Bend/West Bend East) and catchers Brian Groshek (Cudahy) and Ryan Lawrence (Sheboygan/South) round out the freshman class in the infield. Freshmen Roberto Flores (Milwaukee/Thomas More), David Fayne (Milwaukee/Pulaski), Andrew Schartner (Sturgeon Bay/Sevastopol) and Jeremy Williams (Zion Benton, Ill.) will also push for time in the outfield.
As Lakeland heads into its first game of the 2008 season on Saturday at DePauw University, the Muskies can only hope to keep their competitive spirit high as they face their difficult schedule with a young team.
"We're very excited by the change on the field this year and excited to start playing," Thousand said. "The young guys tend to keep the rest of the team and the coaching staff younger, but at the same time they add more grey hairs."