HJ/EDJuly 10, 2006

Wildcats baseball team loaded with brothers and cousins

By Jenni Sebora

Good team speed, good hitting, ace pitching by veteran pitcher Dan LaMott, and experience are keys to what is keeping the 2006 Winsted Wildcats baseball team in the top half of the Crow River Valley League, north division.

Being at the top or near the top of the CRVL north is not new for the Wildcats. Last season, the Wildcats ended the season with a 12-4 league record and a 15-11 record overall, thereby clinching the north division champion title.

And in 2003, the Wildcats went a step farther and earned a trip to the state tournament, defeating Glencoe and Hamburg in the Region tournament to get there.

The Wildcats, with a current 5-5 record in the league and an overall record of 8-7, are presently sitting third in the CRVL north, tied with the Watertown Red Devils (as of this writing), behind second place New Germany and the top team Glencoe Brewers.

The Brewers have just one loss, and with a top pitcher Steve Marsden back on their roster, they may be pretty difficult for the other north teams to catch in the chase for the north division league champion title.

But that’s not stopping the Wildcats’ goal of staying at the top of the pack and possibly moving up from third, Wildcats’ co-manager and player Aaron Schultz noted.

“It would be nice to get at least the second spot, so we could have a first round bye in Regions (as the top two teams get first round byes),” Schultz said. But Schultz added that the club wants at least a third and a trip to the Region tournament, which is in Norwood this season.

“Of course a goal is always to earn a berth to the state tournament,” Schultz said.

Schultz said in order for the Wildcats to stay at the top or move up a spot in the north, the team can’t afford another league loss.

That order can be difficult, as the Crow River Valley League is considered one of the best in the state, boasting three recent state tournament champions: Plato in 1996, Glencoe in 1998 and Green Isle in 2003. Green Isle also played in the state championship game in 1999, finishing second.

Teams in the CRVL include, Plato, who is always a tough opponent for the Wildcats, Schultz noted, St. Bonifacious, New Germany, Green Isle, Watertown, Mayer, Hamburg, Norwood, Young America, Cologne, Glencoe, and of course, Winsted.

Not only are the teams in the CRVL good but the fields are in good shape also. That has not gone unnoticed by the state amateur baseball association, which, in recent past, has held state tournaments in Glencoe and Hamburg, and has awarded the 2007 state tournament to Norwood and Hamburg, which are all exceptional fields, according to former manager Chuck Schultz.

As the Wildcats are finishing up the last half of the regular season, they hope to pull away with victories, especially league ones. Schultz noted that the north division is always a tight race to the end, with the top teams usually splitting games with the other top teams in the north.

Hopefully that 500 record holds true for the Wildcats this season as the Wildcats have tallied up a loss to each of these top defending teams, losing a close 7-6 game to the Red Devils, a 6-4 loss to the Brewers and most recently, a loss to the New Germany Dutchmen.

But the Wildcats have time to redeem themselves and attain that 500 record against these top north teams as they have remaining games against Watertown, New Germany and Glencoe, among other league and non-CRVL teams.

In fact, the last game of the season, the Wildcats take on Watertown, which is the Wildcats’ fan appreciation Sunday.

And the Wildcats most certainly appreciate their fans who follow them loyally to both home and away games.

Winsted’s large and loyal fan following has not gone unnoticed. Winsted is known throughout the CRVL for drawing large crowds and having excellent fan support. At any given game, one can hear a cowbell, a song or a cheer ringing out from the Wildcats’ fans in support of their beloved team.

In 1994, the Wildcats were presented with a special award by the Northwest Umpires Association for having the best fans.

Many opposing teams enjoy hosting Winsted for their own appreciation games and raffles because of the fan following (and of course, the healthy rivalry). Many seasons, the Wildcats have been the opposing team for the Mayer Blazers’ raffle and appreciation game and the Dutchmen’s pork chop Sunday game.

As the fans continue to follow the Wildcats win or lose, the Wildcats can continue to make improvements to its game, Schultz noted.

“We haven’t been playing terribly, but we could do better,” Schultz said. “We struggled early on defense, but we are doing better.”

Offensively, the Wildcats have been hitting the ball well. Among the top hitters for the Wildcats thus far have been Daryl Hoof, Tony Kley and Gregg Kohler. Joe Kley, a Lester Prairie High School senior, has also hit the ball well with a homerun and double under his belt.

But without hesitation, Schultz identified pitching as a key to improving the Wildcats’ record.

“Danny is pitching well, but we need a number 2 guy who can pitch six or seven innings,” Schultz said, noting that they have quite a few guys including Schultz, himself, co-manager Neil Schlagel, Tony Kley, Steve Bisping, Grant Wicksberg, who can throw solid for two or three innings, but the team needs someone who can step up and pitch more innings.

At the other end of the pitching duo is the catcher, veteran Ryan Bartosiewski, who does the bulk of the catching, and does it well, Schultz commented.

“Barto is one of the top defensive catchers in the league and is hitting pretty well,” Schultz said.

But what Schultz points to as the key to pulling everything together for the Wildcats so they are at the top of their game at play-offs, is the experience of the veteran players, who have been playing together for a long time.

“We have an experienced group of guys playing together,” Schultz said. And much of that experience comes in the shape of brother or cousin duos or trios.

Schultz, himself, has a brother, Cullen, who has seen a lot of success on the ball field, and together they have put in more than 20 years of Wildcat experience. Ace pitcher, Dan LaMott, is a cousin to the Schultz brothers, and has been a top pitcher in the CRVL for a number of years.

Helping Schultz with coaching and managing is Neil Schlagel, a long-lived Wildcat and backbone of the team, and his brother, Jacob, who both have extensive playing experience. Their cousin Todd Norman adds more veteran experience to the team.

Daryl and Daryn Hoof, the true “twins”, were Lester Prairie High School baseball stars and have continued that same competitive stature as Wildcat players.

Brothers Marc and Gregg Kohler along with cousin Shawn Kohler have been key players for the Wildcat team for a number of years. High schooler Matt Wroge is a Wildcat and cousin to the Kohler dynamic trio as well.

Although Tony and Joe Kley are among the younger players on the team, they are another brother duo who have played a lot of ball and have experienced success.

Although Bartosiewski is not related to anyone on the team, he is most certainly a veteran on the roster and adds to the Wildcat experience.

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