2010 Baseball Season Preview: Familiar faces return as Thousand, Muskies look to rise in conference standings
Athletics - posted on 3/8/2010
The line-up card written for the Lakeland baseball team's 2010 season opener on March 14 will look very similar to the one written in the final game of the team's 2009 campaign.
All nine starters return for the Muskies, who finished ninth in the Northern Athletics Conference last season with a 10-12 league record and a 15-24 overall mark. Fourth-year coach Chris Thousand and his staff are excited about this year's team, which has been picked by conference coaches to place ninth again.
"We're returning the top player, at-bat-wise, at every position from last year, so we're pretty excited about that," Thousand said. "Pretty much everyone has experience and knows what they're doing, which is great to see.
"We got a lot of experience for our guys (last season). We were sophomore-heavy last year, so they got a lot of playing time. I thought we ended the year well, winning three of our last four."
With that experience in mind, Thousand and his coaching staff have stressed making productive outs and having quality at-bats offensively. Thousand believes the offense is the strength of this year's team.
"One through nine, we can put a pretty solid line-up out there," Thousand said. "The biggest thing we're talking to our team about is making productive outs, whether it's bunting to sacrifice a runner, or whether it's just hitting to the right side to get a runner to the next base. We tell our guys all the time that a base hit is not the only way to help the team."
The Muskies return a trio of seniors in third baseman Doug Novak (Algoma, Wis.), centerfielder Jacob Heinemeyer (Shiocton, Wis.) and pitcher Lee Chepil (Ladysmith, Wis.). All three have taken on important leadership roles on and off the field.
"All three of them bring great leadership," Thousand said. "I couldn't ask for much more than what those guys bring to the table."
Lakeland will be tested right away in its annual trip to Ft. Myers, Fla., where they will play 10 games in a seven-day span. The team opens the conference season with three 2009 NAC Tournament qualifiers - Aurora (April 3), at Concordia Chicago (April 5) and at Benedictine (April 10). CUC is the league's defending regular season and tournament champion.
The team has filled its regular season schedule with in-state, non-conference opponents Lawrence (March 31), Cardinal Stritch (April 13), Ripon (April 21) and Carthage (May 5), which is ranked ninth in the D3baseball.com Preseason Top 25.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2010 team.
Heinemeyer looks to lead the outfield in his third season as a starter in center field. Last season, he started 35 of the 36 games he played in, batting .282 and leading the team with 131 at-bats, 29 runs scored and eight stolen bases. He also finished second with 37 hits.
Heinemeyer, who is a four-time all-conference football player, is a fantastic athlete and a superb defensive player in addition to his offensive abilities.
"Jacob has great speed and plays great defense," Thousand said. "He covers a lot of ground out in centerfield. He'll probably start as our leadoff hitter again this year as a plus-.300 career hitter at Lakeland."
Heinemeyer will be flanked by sophomore Mike Huber in left field and junior Andrew Schartner in right.
Huber (Reedsburg, Wis.) was named to the NAC All-Freshmen team a year ago after posting 11 doubles, which was second on the team, as well as 16 RBIs and 12 walks. Thousand and his staff are working with him to cut down on his strikeouts after Huber led the Muskies with 40 in 2009.
"Huber brings so much energy and is always talking," Thousand said. "The biggest thing for him is staying at that high level. When he starts getting down, he affects a lot of other people, which we talk to him about on a daily basis."
Schartner (Sturgeon Bay, Wis.) started hot last season but cooled off, finishing with a .252 average, 16 walks and five stolen bases.
"Schartner's not bad consistently, but he tends to drop near the end of the season, so we're looking to get him in better shape so he can handle the full season," Thousand said.
Junior Jeremy Williams (RF; Zion, Ill.), sophomore Casey Fox (LF; Germantown, Wis.) and freshman Justin Reminger (CF; Leopolis, Wis.) will also compete for playing time in the outfield.
Novak, one of the team's offensive leaders in 2009, is settled in at third base. He led the Muskies in batting average (.314), total bases (54), doubles (13) and walks (17) and was among team leaders in RBIs (21) and on-base percentage (.404).
"Last year, Doug was pretty important to our offense, and we expect the same thing this year," Thousand said. "He'll be a middle-of-the-order type hitter for us again, and hopefully the experience he's gotten the last two years will pay off for him."
Defensively, Novak covers a lot of ground at the hot corner and has good hands. He will be backed up by sophomores Garrett Vincetich-Morris (Janesville, Wis.) and Stephen Kalina (Lake Villa, Ill.), and freshman Cody Riemer (Marion, Wis.).
At shortstop, junior Brad Young (West Bend, Wis.) returns after starting all 37 contests for Lakeland last season. Known primarily for his defense, Young emerged as an offensive threat in 2009 with a .293 batting average, 34 hits and 20 RBIs. Defensively, he led the Muskies with 117 assists.
"Brad's got good range, a great arm and nice size and length," Thousand said. "Last year, he also helped out with hitting. We saw some good things out of him last year at that position."
Riemer and freshman Andy Chitwood (Muscoda, Wis.) will battle for playing time behind Young.
Junior Ryan Polizzi (Woodstock, Ill.) and sophomore Jess Nickel (Waupun, Wis.) will battle for the second base job. Polizzi, an intelligent player who has battled hitting inconsistency, started 24 contests last season, hitting .289 with 13 RBIs and four stolen bases. Nickel saw limited action in 2009, but has been consistent in fall and spring practices.
At first base, juniors Cal Post (Appleton, Wis.) and Mike Ruzek (Manitowoc, Wis.) appear to be the front-runners for the position. Post battled a back injury last season but still managed a .273 batting average, 20 RBIs and a .985 fielding percentage, while Ruzek, a lefty, hit .289 with a .426 on-base percentage in limited action.
"Cal is completely healthy this year and is moving well in practice, which is nice because he was our top hitter two years ago stat-wise," Thousand said. "Mike kind of had a breakout year as a sophomore last year with his hitting. If we hadn't focused on his pitching last year, he probably would have gotten more at-bats."
Sophomore Erik Kozey and freshman Matt Krueger, who are each Medford, Wis., natives, will also compete for playing time at the spot.
David Novak, Doug Novak's twin brother, is currently the team's No. 1 catcher. Novak belted a team-high four home runs and led Lakeland with 24 RBIs and a .468 slugging percentage a year ago.
"David's developed, has great work ethic and takes a lot of pride in how he plays," Thousand said. "He's got good power numbers, and he's only gotten bigger in the weight room, so I expect those numbers to go up even more."
Junior Jeremy Meier (Sauk City, Wis.), a superb athlete who has undergone a number of position changes in his first two years, projects as the back-up catcher.
Ruzek and Chepil lead the Lakeland pitching staff, which lost a pair of regulars from last season and contains no left-handers.
Ruzek is unquestionably the ace of the staff. The 2009 first team All-NAC honoree finished in the top 10 in the league in earned run average (3.77), opposing batting average (.258), innings pitched (62.0), strikeouts (53) and wins (5.3 record). He also tossed three complete games and a pair of shutouts.
"Mike pitched against a lot of tough teams and put up pretty good numbers last season," Thousand said. "This year he's only gotten better. His work ethic is a lot better than last year, and he's pitched really well during fall and winter ball, so we expect great things out of him."
Chepil's 2009 season was highlighted by the first perfect game in school history on April 9 at Maranatha. The big right-hander mowed down 21 consecutive batters and struck out eight to give Lakeland an 18-0 victory in a 10-run rule shortened affair. For the season, Chepil allowed opponents to hit just .253 and posted a 3-4 record with 44 strikeouts in 55 innings. He looks to be more consistent this season as the team's No. 2 starter.
Junior Matt Katzman (Prairie du Sac, Wis.) will be the team's third starter, while Chitwood appears in line for the No. 4 spot. Katzman struggled with consistency last season in seven appearances, but was throwing confidently during fall practice.
Thousand looks to Williams, Schartner and Kozey as relievers. Williams, who showed flashes of brilliance last season, projects as the team's top option, while Schartner and Kozey look to bring new energy out of the bullpen.
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