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What a fun ride!

September 14, 2009

by Aaron Schultz

I haven’t really caught my breath yet from the 2009 state baseball tournament, nor has it all really set in yet.

True, the Winsted Wildcats didn’t come away with a state championship, or even make it to the state championship game, but they did finish fourth for the second time in three years.

That, alone, is a pretty good accomplishment, if I don’t say so myself.

Of course, our ultimate goal once we made the state tourney was to win it, but that just wasn’t meant to be, I guess.

While it is only a few days after the season, I thought it might be fun to take a look at every guy on the Wildcat roster and talk a little bit about what he meant to the team during this special 2009 season.

• Tony Kley, SS/P

Tony had a great year and really carried the Wildcats throughout the year.

If Winsted had a big game to play during the year, it was Tony on the mound.

When he wasn’t pitching, he was playing the best shortstop in the Crow River Valley League.

He also caught a game, and played every position, but pitcher, in the final regular season game of the year against Watertown.

While many people made big contributions during the season, in the playoffs, and at state, if it wasn’t for Tony, the Wildcats probably don’t even sniff a state tournament berth.

• Cullen Schultz, 1B

Cullen, who just happens to be my brother, is one of the top defensive first basemen in the area, and can still swing a pretty good stick.

Of course, he plays first base with his old shortstop glove, which drives co-manager Neil Schlagel crazy, but I don’t see him changing to a first basemen’s mitt any time soon.

Throughout the year, Cullen batted second, right behind Tony, and took pitch after pitch to allow Tony to steal, even when it meant he was almost always behind in the count.

Despite that team approach at the plate, he still led the CRVL in walks during the season.

Playing with my brother made this run even more special, but next time we make it to state it will be his turn to drive to all the games since he rode with me to every game starting with the playoffs.

Lucky for me gas isn’t so expensive any more.

• Gregg Kohler, RF

Greggy had been in right field for the Wildcats for a long time, and he is still pretty young.

Throughout the many years he has played for the Wildcats, Gregg has established himself as one of the top hitters in the CRVL, and maybe even the state.

Gregg finished second in the CRVL batting race, swung a hot bat in the playoffs, and hit .360 in six state tournament games to get named to the Class C state all-tournament team.

He also has one of the strongest arms of any outfielder in the area.

Gregg is as great player, one of the Wildcat leaders, and might just go down as the best hitter to ever wear a Wildcat uniform.

• Joe Kley, DH/2B

It was an uneven year for Joe, as he suffered an arm injury early in the season and wasn’t able to throw for much of the year.

This was a big blow for the Wildcats, as he was named the CRVL pitcher of the year in 2007.

Still, Joe got it done at the plate during the year, battling with Gregg Kohler right up to the final weekend of the season for the CRVL batting title – he also fell short.

Once the playoffs rolled around, Joe was able to play second base for the Wildcats, and gave us a big boost with his skills in the field.

Just the nicest kid you will ever meet, Joe is just 20 years old, and already has a CRVL MVP under his belt.

We all know that Joe is one of the best hitters in the CRVL, if not the best, and he just continues to prove it season after season.

Over the many years of coaching Joe from high school to now town team, I have many memories of him doing special things on the baseball field, but nothing will stand out more to me than him hitting a game-tying home run off Scott Geiger in the state tournament in the top of the ninth – what a big hit!

• Marc Kohler, LF

Marc, or Otis as he is known to his teammates, is one of the few cagey veterans left on the Wildcats at 31 years old.

Otis battled a few nagging injuries all year long, but still managed to put together a great year all around.

A lot of the guys like to make fun of Otis for is stretching, and overall energy, but he gives the team energy.

Otis has talked about retiring, but for the Wildcats’ sake, we hope he doesn’t anytime soon.

Oh yeah, he also hit a few big home runs for the Wildcats in the region and state tournaments, I couldn’t forget to mention that.

Maybe, next year, we’ll let you pitch. Yeah, right!

• Jake Prehn, IF

Jake is a young player who really came into his own this year, hitting the ball very well.

A player that you can put pretty much anywhere on the field and know you are going to get solid play, Jake did play everywhere for the Wildcats.

Jake’s just a fun kid to have on the team, and he has a very bright future in amateur baseball.

• Matt Wroge, C/IF

Matt is probably the oldest, young man on any CRVL team.

He has been a member of the Wildcats for as long as I can remember, yet is he still very young.

This year Matt took over the catching duties full-time, and did an outstanding job.

Looking at it from afar, I’d have to say he is one of the top defensive catchers in the Crow.

Offensively, Matt had a few bright spots, but his bat will get better as the years go on, that I can assure you.

Oh yeah, he was also one of our top pitchers during the season, and would have seen more time on the mound if we didn’t need him behind the plate so much.

• Curtis Herbolsheimer, CF

Curtis, or Herbo, or Rookie, or Rook, well you get the point, we have many names for the young man with the long last name.

Herbo, which I prefer, did an outstanding job in center field for the Wildcats this year, and seemed to be the king of the bleeder.

Like many of the others players on the Wildcats, Herbo is still very young, yet he already played in some big games.

Look for Herbo to be a big part of the Wildcats outfield, and line-up, for many, many years to come.

• Jace Whitcomb, P/OF

Jace, who is the starting quarterback for the HLWW football team, was a first-year player for the Wildcats this year.

Sunshine as many on the team call him, played some key innings for the Wildcats this year, and started in the outfield in the opening round playoff series against New Germany.

Jace hit the ball well for us, played very solid defense, and also pitched a few innings.

As the years roll along, Jace will surely become one of the anchors on the pitching staff, that is when he isn’t working at Glenn’s.

• Steve Bisping, P

Steve, or Flu as he is known by most, almost didn’t come back to the Wildcats this year.

I talked to Flu during the winter and he was considering hanging it up.

Well, he changed his mind, and we are all lucky he did.

Flu pitched a number of big innings for us during the season, and picked up three wins in CRVL action.

Besides throwing in games, Flu also is a big believer in throwing batting practice, where he makes sure all of the Wildcats batters get plenty of cuts in.

And, despite not getting too many plate appearances during the year, he did hold the team lead for broken bats – remember Flu, just composites for now on.

• Justin Jacques, 3B

Justin was also a new addition to the Wildcats in 2009, and played a big role in helping Winsted to state.

While a first baseman when he joined Winsted, Justin played many games at third base when the Wildcats were short of infielders, and did a great job.

Justin also had a few key hits during the year, and was a welcome addition to the squad.

• Ben Machemehl, OF

Ben is an outfielder, by trade, but also saw some action at second base, and on the mound for Winsted.

In fact, Ben picked up his first career CRVL win against Watertown in the final regular season game of the year.

Solid in the outfield, Ben played a big role for the Wildcats in the region and state tournaments as the top pinch runner on the roster.

With a number of slow guys in the line up, specifically me and brother Cullen, a guy like Ben was invaluable.

His strong base running paid off in a big way against Blue Earth when he raced around from first base to score the game-winning run in the 11th inning on an error.

A fun guy to have on any team, Ben is always talking in the dugout.

• Eric Dietel, IF

Eric was another newcomer to the Wildcats in 2009, and saw a lot of action at second base prior to Joe Kley coming back from injury.

While he didn’t always look smooth making the plays, he always made the plays, which is all that really matters.

Eric missed out on the final two weekends of the state tournament due to having to leave for college, but he had a very good year for Winsted during the regular season.

If it wasn’t for Eric I might have seen a lot more time in the infield, and that wouldn’t have been good for anybody except for our opponents.

• Neil Schlagel, C/Mgr.

Neil, who is the co-manager with myself, wasn’t around a ton during the regular season, but you couldn’t drag him away come playoff time.

During the year, Neil was our catcher when Wroge needed a break, or had to pitch, and did a very good job for an old guy.

He was also the king of the infield singles this year. Don’t believe me, just ask him and he will tell you.

During the state tournament run, Neil held down the third base coaching duties as I was the designated hitter.

If you ask him, it probably should have been the other way around.

Neil the second longest tenured Wildcat on the team, and we all hope this wasn’t his final year in the dugout.

• Nate Fiecke, 1B/C

Nate was another new member to the Wildcat team, and took over as the top batting practice pitcher when Flu had to save his arm.

Fieckes, as I like to call him, also saw some time behind the plate and at first base this year.

Nate is a fun addition to the Wildcats, and I hope he hangs with it for many more years to come.

One thing though Nate, make sure and get Herbo back a little earlier for state playoff games next year.

• Matt Klitzke, 1B

Alright, the final member of the team to talk about is also the oldest.

Matt, or Big Fella’, came out of retirement last year, and promptly took control of the Wildcats’ web site.

While family and work commitments meant he wasn’t able to be at as many games as he wanted to, we sure did appreciate the games he did make.

Big Fella has a way of making the dugout fun every game he is at, and that is something that each successful team needs.

Of course, then there are baseball skills, which are still there, he just doesn’t bring them out too often.

Like Neil, Matt has talked about hanging it up, but we all hope that is just talk and come April the Big Fella is back in the Wildcats dugout.

Drafted players

Three players who were Wildcat rivals during the regular season, joined Winsted for their state tournament run via the draft.

The Wildcats drafted Watertown’s Josh Anthony, Mayer’s Nic Haller, and Hamburg’s Mike Mueller.

All three made huge contributions for us this year, and fit in with us like they had been playing with us all year.

Oh yeah, two years ago when we finished fourth (2007) for the first time, both Anthony and Haller were two of our three drafted players.

• Josh Anthony, P

Josh was a horse for us in the region and state tournaments, and his selection to the Class C state all-tournament team tells the story.

A fun guy who pitched lights out for us, Josh was nearly unhittable in many of the games he pitched, and his bat was a welcome addition to an already strong line-up.

• Nic Haller, C

Nic did a heck of a job of knocking down pitch after pitch behind the plate for the Wildcats in state.

One of my favorites memories of state was when the ball came out of Nic’s catcher’s mitt, and Neil yelled “way to knock it down.”

The look on Nic’s face when he turned to look in the dugout was priceless.

In all seriousness, Nic did a fine job behind the plate, and pretty much couldn’t get out when in the batters’ box during the region tournament.

He also owes me rent for all the nights he stayed in my guest bedroom over these past six weeks, or so.

• Mike Mueller, P

If you look up big-game pitcher in a dictionary, you might just see a picture of Mike next to it.

Two years ago Mike was the MVP of the state tournament when Plato won it, and he pitched just as well for us this year.

In his two starts at state, Mike pitched 19 innings without allowing an earned run, and went 2-0.

Nobody rises to the occasion of a state tournament like Mike, and he was sure fun to have on the squad.