Webster set to defend conference baseball title

Rest of the West Lakeland ready to give chase

Marty Seeger|Staff writer

WEBSTER – It’s going to be one crazy spring if the snow and cold continues across much of the northern part of the state. But once the weather finally breaks there’s no question the Webster baseball team will be ready to defend their 2017 conference championship, and make another run at the state tournament, where their season ended with a tough loss in the semifinals. The Tigers played in Division 4 last year but with a slight increase in enrollment numbers they moved up to Division 3. That just means they’ll be among West Lakeland opponents come playoff time.

Webster junior Jack Washburn, above, and junior teammate Hunter Rosenbaum, are regarded as two of the top pitchers in the state in all divisions. They will help lead the Tigers this spring as they defend their conference title and eye another shot at the state tournament with a very deep pitching roster and all but one of their players back from last year’s successful team. – Leader file photos

“Moving to D3 isn’t something we can control. We worry about what we can control and if we play the way we are capable we should have a chance against anyone,” said coach Jarrod Washburn.

With only one starter graduating off a team that finished 13-1 in conference play, and 21-6 overall, Webster is in a good position to be near the top of the West again, but Washburn understands how tough the conference is each year.

“Pretty much every team has the chance to knock off anyone every day of the season,” Washburn said.

This season though, the Tigers have two of the top pitchers in the state. Jack Washburn was their No. 1 pitcher last season and Hunter Rosenbaum will make his Webster debut after sitting out last season due to WIAA transfer rules. Both are only juniors and are committed to two of the nations top Division 1 baseball schools, but the Tigers are deeper than that from the mound.

“Obviously Jack and Hunter will anchor our staff but we do have a good number of good arms behind them that will have to contribute in a big way. Trevor Gustafson (catcher), Caleb Pardun, Brad Sigfrids, Matt Buffington and Hunter Gustafson all threw quality varsity innings for us last year and we expect them all to do so again. We also have some young guys in Coleton Peterson, Owen Washburn and Carsen Stenberg who will be given a chance to earn varsity innings on the mound for us. Games will be packed in towards the end of our season with these weather difficulties and lots of arms will be needed,” said Washburn, who brings his own experience to the staff as an 11-year career as an MLB pitcher.

There were five players from last year’s roster who earned all-conference honors and more. They include Jack Washburn, Brad Sigfrids, Trevor Gustafson, Hunter Gustafson and Trenton Wols. In all, the team set 15 new school records as a team, including wins, 21, ERA, 2.58, runs scored, 228, and fielding percentage, which shows how good their defense is capable of being, although Washburn admitted that they’ll need to clean up their defense after committing too many errors in their first two games of the season.

Regardless of the errors, the bar of expectation is pretty high for the Tigers, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. Coach Washburn says the team is working hard, confident and expects to win, but they are not taking anything for granted.

“If we can stay healthy and get a bit more consistent at doing the little things better we have a chance to have a very special season,” Washburn said.

Luck/Frederic

The Luck/Frederic baseball team finished near the bottom half of the West Lakeland in 2017 but still produced five wins while competing with a tough schedule. With the weather delays and indoor practices there’s plenty of question marks for the L/F, but the numbers are up a bit, with 16 players on the current roster according to coach Ryan Humpal.

There are five key players back from last year including Payton Ellefson, Levi Jensen, Jack Johansen, Gage Johansen and Steven Hall, but the rest of the roster is relatively young. One positive is that everyone is healthy, which will be a key factor for L/F once the schedule starts rolling.

Although the team has yet to get onto an outdoor playing field, Humpal says one of the strengths is team speed, which he hopes will carry over to playing good defense and running the bases when they start stringing together some hits.

One of the big questions for L/F, and most teams throughout the year is pitching. Humpal said that could be a concern as they head into what appears to be a very short season, filled with doubleheaders.

“Biggest thing to success this year will be developing enough pitchers to navigate the schedule. Once we start playing it is going to be crazy schedule.”

Humpal says fans can expect to see a team that plays hard and has fun doing it. He’s hoping that translates into more wins this season. But he says this young team would have benefitted more from a longer season, not only to gain more experience, but to see where his athletes fit best on the roster.

“With this weather we might not get the chance to try guys at different spots.”

Siren

The Siren baseball team finished at the bottom of the West Lakeland Conference in 2017 but managed to scrap together some competitive games and win four overall. In 2016 they played exhibition games as they split from what was the Webster/Siren coop. The Dragons have been rebuilding ever since but still had decent season while increasing their roster from 10 players to 16.

The team also posted a playoff win in 2017, during the opening round of the Division 4, WIAA playoffs against Winter. Webster crushed the Warriors 20-1 in the game with three pitchers, including Bailey Mangen, freshman Jordan Webster and Ben Lemieux. Xander Pinero went 3 for 4 at the plate in their playoff win as Siren totaled 12 hits. Their season came to an end in the next game against No. 1 seeded Webster.

The Dragons did graduate four quality players including power hitters Brady and Bailey Mangen, and Max Lindquist and Sampson Richter.

Siren should have experience back on the mound however as Webster enters his sophomore year. Lemieux was another Dragon pitcher who threw a lot of innings last season.

St. Croix Falls

Jameson Kahl is one of the veterans that will help lead the St. Croix Falls baseball team this season. He earned All-Conference honors last year as a junior.

The Saints baseball team fell into sixth place among the seven other West Lakeland baseball teams in 2017, but it was a competitive year for St. Croix Falls in an evenly matched conference. And the team was filled with a lot of young talent, which included five freshmen starters for most of their games. The team lost just one starter from last year with Jacob Murphy, who was their starting centerfielder and all-conference honorable mention.

Returning to the Saints roster are first-team all-conference selection Jameson Kahl, and Josh Skallet and Luke Thaemert, who earned an all-conference honorable mention.

“Returning all of my starters from last year with the exception of our Center Fielder Jacob Murphy will be a strength as we were very competitive last year while fielding five freshman starters in most of our games. Their growth and maturity will be an added benefit to this year’s squad,” said head coach Mark Gjovig.

Along with most of their returning starters, the Saints are adding 12 new faces to the team. Of the 12 new faces, which include two upperclassmen, there are 10 freshmen who have had a lot of success already. Gjovig said many of those players have provided offensive power and bring quality pitching to the table.

Despite Webster being a favorite to defend the conference title, the Gjovig feels that the conference is evenly matched and the conference title is up for grabs for several teams, which include Turtle Lake/Clayton, Grantsburg and Unity. Gjovig added that in order for the Saints to compete for a title they need to focus on the positives, work hard, improve and provide support for fellow teammates.

“We competed well last year and came up short in several of our competitions which means we have the ability to do well if we can stay focused and fix the little mistakes that took us out of games last year.”

Grantsburg

The Pirates will hope to build on their 12-12 record from last year and coach Pete Johnson feels like they’ll be in the mix in many contests this spring. The team includes just three seniors, Ricky Clark, Sven Johnson and Teddy Vitale, along with four juniors Luke Anderson, Ben Johnson, David Nelson and Bryce Roufs. The rest include 10 sophomores, five freshmen and coaches Adam Olson, Bryan Vilstrup and Ted Gerber.

“I anticipate we will show up and be able to compete in most of the the games this season. Anyone who follows baseball, and especially high school baseball, knows the ups and downs of a season. Every team has hot streaks and cold streaks, most players will also be hot and cold at different times of the season. We try to prepare for most game-time situations and practice the skills needed for most things that happen in the course of a game. There will always be a bad hop here and there…there will always be a bleeder that makes it through the infield … there will always be an error or tough call by an umpire. We try to roll with these things knowing that sometimes they happen in our favor and sometimes in our opponents’ favor,” Johnson said.

Despite the cold and snow Johnson is pleased with the Pirates efforts indoors during the early weeks of practice. Along with a great attitude, he says they love work hard, compete in drills and are simply great kids.

“I like to remind the players of the fun side of baseball: we get to throw things at people and hit stuff. We can’t wait to get outside and move on to the meat of the season. Each spring our first few weeks outside is still pretty cold, but it’s magical on that first warm game of the year.”

Johnson expects to see several teams contend for a conference title including Unity, Webster, and St. Croix Falls and Turtle Lake/Clayton, who both have a strong freshman class.

Unity Eagles

Unity’s Hunter Pederson is a senior lefty that could help the Eagles win a lot of games in 2018. Unity has a new coach this season, with Shaun Fisher replacing former head coach Matt Humpal. – Leader file photos

The Unity baseball team had the makings of a team that could make a run to the state tournament in 2017 but their season ended in a 10-8 heartbreaking loss to Cumberland in the regional championship game. Cumberland ended up winning two more games in the Division 3 tournament and punched their ticket to state. Unity ended the year 17-5 overall and second in the West Lakeland standings.

But 2018 is a new spring and the Eagles are itching to get onto the field with many of their players from last season coming back to the lineup. Their left-handed ace, Hunter Pederson is a senior this year with a lot of experience along with seniors Landon and Logan Hendrickson and Cody Ince.

“We have a nice core of guys that I’m excited to see grow and develop, such as Jack Nelson, Tommy Teschendorf, Nick Paulsen, Jaxon Flaherty and some others with lots of potential,” said first-year head coach Shaun Fisher.

Fisher is the head boys basketball coach but replaces former head coach Matt Humpal, who resigned from Unity at the end of the season last year to take a teaching position in Amery.

Fisher said that so far everyone on the team is healthy, which is always a positive way to start, and the numbers are good enough to field both a varsity and JV team. For now, he’s not sure what the strengths are with the team but there has been plenty of time to work on the fundamentals indoors. He said they are working on putting together as many pitchers as possible to prepare for what appears to be a short season based on the wintry weather. That could mean more doubleheaders as cancelations continue. Still, the Eagles new coach is happy with a group that he feels have the keys to be competitive, as long as they believe in themselves and each other.

“We have a great core of guys with tons of potential, but we have to get them to come together and do the little things to be successful … all the time.”

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