2011 Baseball preview: Muskies look to keep momentum rolling
Athletics - posted on 3/7/2011
If winning is indeed contagious, the Lakeland College baseball team hopes last season's 20-plus win record translates into positive momentum for this spring.
The Muskies will use an aggressive offensive approach marked by bunting, stealing, hit and running, and taking extra bases in hopes of another 20-plus win season as well as a trip to the Northern Athletics Conference Tournament. Lakeland finished 21-19 overall last season, 12-10 in the NAC.
Fifth-year head coach Chris Thousand is eager for the season to begin as the team prepares for its annual road trip to Fort Myers, Fla., on March 13-19.
"The Florida trip is a great way for us to learn more about our team," said Thousand. "Last year we came out of Florida with the first winning record on a spring trip since 1998. It's a great testament to where the program currently stands."
The Muskies will depend on their seniors and nine returners to lead a new class of 16 freshmen and fill the void of losing six of the top seven hitters from last year's squad.
"We will need the young talent to step up and mature quickly both on the field, on the mound and at the plate," said Thousand. "We will look to be aggressive and count on the seniors to lead the way from the plate early."
The strongest position may prove to be Lakeland's pitching as several of last season's leaders return with at least a year of experience.
Leading the Muskies' pitching is senior Matt Katzman. The Sauk Prairie, Wis., native returns as the team's ace with a 4.20 ERA and a team-best 33 strikeouts. He posted a 4-3 record and appeared in 11 games, starting in eight.
Andy Chitwood (Muscoda, Wis.), the 2010 NAC Freshman of the Year, returns after posting a 3.66 ERA and 21 strikeouts in his debut. He had an impressive 5-1 record and appeared in eight games, starting in seven.
Redshirt junior Mike Ruzek (Manitowoc, Wis.) is eager to return to the mound after rehabbing an injury last season. Ruzek is also projected to start at third base, and Thousand anticipates Ruzek making a huge impact on the team this season.
Also returning is junior starter Garret Vincetich-Morris, a Janesville, Wis., native who is tabbed for the No. 4 spot in the rotation. Vincetich-Morris posted a 3-3 record in 2010 and appeared in seven games, starting in six.
New faces will take the mound as the team rotates freshman Derek Loomans (Waupun, Wis.) and Andy Mueller (Horicon, Wis.) at five and six, respectively.
Thousand is confident in his pitching, but he knows that run support and solid defense have to back the Muskies' arms.
"With our top four pitchers being able to keep us in games, we need our offense to score runs in close games to win them," said Thousand. "One major goal this season is winning close games."
Behind the plate, Lakeland looks to senior catcher David Novak. The Algoma, Wis., native gives Lakeland strength with his ability to shut down the opponents running game. Offensively, Novak is four doubles and 22 RBIs away from school records.
The Muskies' infield is led by Andy Schartner (Sturgeon Bay, Wis.). The 5-foot-10 senior will start at first base and also serve as a reliever. Schartner appeared in 39 games last year. He returns as the team's leading run scorer with 35.
At second base is junior Jess Nickel. The Waupun, Wis., native will key the defense and lead the younger players.
Freshman Ryan Boettcher (Bonduel, Wis.) is expected to start at shortstop. Boettcher offers a large range and a strong arm. Thousand believes his athleticism and range can make a huge impact on the game.
In the outfield, Lakeland will look to senior Jeremy Meier to fill in where former standout centerfielder Jacob Heinemeyer left off. Meier, a Sauk City, Wis., native had a productive 2010 season and looks to be a top performer this year. He returns with a .281 batting average and appeared in 24 games, starting in 19.
At left and right field are freshmen Tim Kuchenbecker and Tyler Pfefferle, respectively. Kuchenbecker joins Lakeland after a standout senior season at Brillion High School in Brillion, Wis, while Pfefferle, a Seymour, Wis., native, is a solid player and will be depended on to make the play. Thousand believes both freshmen offer experience, but they'll need to quickly adapt to the rigors of college baseball.
Other key players include freshmen Dane Blake (Elkhart Lake, Wis.), Anthony Lutz (Neenah, Wis.), Charlie Sparrow (Milwaukee, Wis.), Brenton Steudel (Hortonville, Wis.) and Ryan Krzyzkowski (Franklin, Wis.).
Thousand is hopeful that this year's squad can continue the success of last season. "We've improved by six games in the win column each of the last two years because of hard work and being prepared," said Thousand.
The Muskies open home play on Sunday, March 27, against Lawrence University. NAC play starts on April 2, as Lakeland travels to Aurora University. They open home NAC play on Sunday, April 3, when they host Concordia University Chicago.
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