Baseball Cards young, but gifted

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton manager Tom Schmitt (center) has an inexperienced, albeit talented team this spring./File photo

In a perfect world, Middleton baseball manager Tom Schmitt would welcome back nine starters this spring.

He’d have a pitching staff loaded with experience, a lineup packed with proven hitters and a team jam-packed with proven commodities.

But that’s not the world Schmitt and his Cardinals live in.

Middleton will be one of the most inexperienced teams in the Big Eight Conference, and perhaps the area. But don’t expect that to discourage the Cardinals one bit.

While Middleton’s group is green, Schmitt and the Cardinals always have great expectations. And Middleton — which opened its season this week with a pair of games in Florida — will have high hopes again in 2017.

“It’s always good to have some definites,” Schmitt said. “It’s a good challenge, too. We know we might have some early bumps, but I expect to see them progress a lot this year.

“I think we’ve got guys that are baseball kids that want to play hard. It’s a big jump to varsity, but they’ll pick it up quickly.”

Middleton has just three seniors on its roster and only two players that had major roles on last season’s team that reached the WIAA Division 1 state semifinals. But the Cardinals do welcome a group of primarily juniors that won 20 games as JV players last year.

Middleton’s top returnees are senior left fielder Liam Belleveau and junior catcher Alan Roden.

Belleveau was named first-team all-Big Eight Conference last year after batting .386 and posting a .514 slugging percentage. Belleveau was also fourth on the Cardinals in hits (27) and RBI (15).

“His stick came along really good for us,” Schmitt said of Belleveau. “And defensively, he made some nice plays as the year went along. He developed a lot defensively.”

Roden, a second-team all-conference selection, has already verbally committed to play at Creighton.

Last season, Roden batted .367, was second on the team in hits (29) and led the Cardinals with 21 runs scored. In addition, Roden drew a team-high 14 walks, led the Cardinals in triples (three), tied for second in doubles (four) and had a .993 fielding percentage.

“We can just stick him in the lineup and go,” Schmitt said of Roden. “He’s a smart kid, he understands the game and he sees things behind the plate.”

Roden will be asked to help bring along a young pitching staff that lost first-team all-conference player Alec Morrison, honorable-mention all-league selection Adam Nutting and versatile swingman Drew Finley-Haag.

“We’re starting from scratch there,” Schmitt said of his pitching situation.

For now, the top two pitchers figure to be juniors Jimmy Frusciante and Carsen Schultz.

Frusciante, a left-hander, battled back and ankle injuries last year, but appears fully healthy now. Schultz, a right-hander, has a big frame, good velocity and an above average breaking ball.

Juniors Brady Schmitt, Nolan Kelliher and Luke Ballweg will also see time on the mound.

“It’s going to be a big step up for all of them,” Tom Schmitt said.

Frusciante and Brady Schmitt are likely to split time at first base, depending on who’s pitching. Junior Noah Casali and Kelliher will likely play second and third base, although Tom Schmitt isn’t sure yet which player will go where. Senior Ryan Land is another option at second base.

And junior Joel Ticknor is the front-runner at shortstop.

“He’s a heady ball player,” Schmitt said of Ticknor. “He has good instincts and is a consistent hitter.”

Senior Josh Acker, who saw some playing time last year, is the frontrunner to take over in center field. Ballweg will likely open in right field, while sophomore Cooper Holewinski figures to crack the lineup somewhere.

“He’ll play,” Schmitt said of Holewinski. “You don’t want to bring a kid up (as a sophomore) and not play him.”

Two years ago, Middleton was in a similar situation as it is this spring.

Back in 2015, the Cardinals were also extremely young and inexperienced. That team went just 10-16 overall and finished eighth in the Big Eight.

The payoff came in 2016, when the Cardinals improved to 19-6 and reached the state tournament for the seventh time in Schmitt’s 14 seasons at the helm.

Schmitt believes this group has similar potential — and he’s optimistic it won’t take as long to see winning results.

“We’re young, there’s no doubt about that,” Schmitt said. “But I think we have guys that can step in a little quicker than we did two years ago. I sure hope that’s the case.”

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