Boys baseball team had great expectations

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Jacob Meinholz and Middleton’s baseball team had great expectations this spring./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Editor’s Note: The WIAA recently canceled spring sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the Times-Tribune, we’d like to give recognition to the athletes and coaches who had their seasons stopped prematurely.

So over the next few weeks, we’ll run a series of stories on the teams that didn’t get a chance to perform in 2020.

 

Brent Jorgensen wasn’t about to go “Broadway” Joe Namath.

But that type of proclamation might have been apropos.

In 1969, Namath — a brash, young quarterback for the New York Jets — “guaranteed” his team would defeat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. The Jets, an 18-point underdog, went on to stun the Colts and the rest of the football world with a 16-7 win.

Jorgensen, Middleton’s baseball manager, saw that his team was picked to finish in the middle of the Big Eight Conference this season. Jorgensen channeled his inner-Namath, but stopped short of any guarantees.

“To people outside of our program, this might sound a little crazy, but I honestly thought we had a team to make a run for a conference title,” Jorgensen said. “We would have had a very competitive team and I thought we were going to do very well this year. 

“We had the middle of our lineup back from last year, four pitchers with solid varsity pitching experience and at least another four pitchers who would have challenged those guys for playing time, and a very determined group of kids. We also had many different players who did a great job of stepping into leadership roles, I think that would have been big for us too.”

Of course, we’ll never know.

The baseball season — and all spring sports — were canceled last week by the WIAA due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

What if?

The Cardinals will undoubtedly wonder that for years.

Middleton went 14-9 overall last season and finished fifth in the Big Eight at 10-8. The Cardinals had a junior-dominant lineup in 2019 and believed they could challenge Sun Prairie and Janesville Craig for the 2020 title.

“The seniors knew that where we left last year was not up to program standards and they were determined to make their mark in the Middleton baseball legacy,” Jorgensen said. “We also had many different players who did a great job of stepping into leadership roles for us. I think that would have been big for us too.

“Although they won't get a chance to leave their mark as seniors on the field, the leadership qualities that were built and displayed by our current group of seniors will impact the next set of varsity players.”

Senior outfielder/pitcher Ben Collier would have been one of the top players in the conference.

Collier was named second-team all-Big Eight last year after batting .412 overall and .441 with runners in scoring position. Collier had six extra base hits, 15 RBI and eight runs scored.

Collier also struck out 44 batters in Big Eight play, the fourth-most in the league, and foes batted just .250 off him. Collier will now continue his baseball career at Madison Edgewood.

“Ben would have likely hit fourth for us this year and was coming off a tremendous breakout season,” Jorgensen said. “Ben was also one of our top pitchers … and was looking to have a repeat season from last year.”

Senior catcher/outfielder Adam Casali was an honorable-mention all-conference player last season, as well.

Despite missing the final month of the season with an injury, Casali hit .368 with six doubles, 12 RBI, eight runs scored, and a .455 on-base percentage in league games only. He also finished third on the Cardinals in RBI, tied for first in extra base hits and was second in on-base percentage.

Casali will continue his baseball career at UW-Whitewater this fall.

“Adam’s an all-around great asset to our program,” Jorgensen said. “Adam would have been a third-year varsity starter as a catcher and outfielder.

“Adam was a leader in our MHS captain's table, the weight room, open gyms, on the field, and in the classroom. Adam's skills, leadership, and work ethic will be hard to replicate.”

Senior Brooks Kalscheur, a defensive wizard, would have played both shortstop and second base. Kalscheur, who will continue his career at Concordia University, was slated to bat leadoff and would have been one of the Cardinals’ leaders.

“Brooks was our tone-setter, gave us our toughness, and took pride in being a ‘grinder,’ ” Jorgensen said. “Brooks would have been the field general of our team in the field.”

Pitchers Josh Stumpf and Logan Schultz would have helped anchor the Cardinals’ pitching staff.

Stumpf was set to begin his fourth varsity season. Now, his next action will come for Marshalltown Community College (Iowa).

“Josh was looking forward to his best year yet,” Jorgensen said. “His skill set and commitment to improvement were fun to watch over the years.

“As a tenured varsity player and conference champion baseball player, Josh brought a unique perspective and set of experiences to our team. Josh also would have likely contributed in the lineup and as an outfielder.”

Schultz was set to begin his third season with the varsity. Instead, he’ll now turn his attention to basketball, where he’ll continue his career at Madison College.

“Logan’s demeanor on the mound and ability to locate all of his pitches would have made him an important starting pitcher for us this year,” Jorgensen said. “Logan stepped up into a bigger role in each of his seasons on varsity and was set to have an important role on our team this year.”

Senior pitcher/infielder Jacob Meinholz would have also played a huge role this spring. The versatile Meinholz would have batted near the top of the lineup and bounced around the field defensively.

He’ll now continue his playing career at UW-Stevens Point.

“Jacob was one of our biggest contributors as a junior and would have stayed that way,” Jorgensen said of Meinholz. “He was poised to be one of our most important players.

“Jacob also would have likely contributed as a pitcher for us this year and been in our rotation as either a starter or reliever. Jacob’s commitment to improving all parts of his game has always been an asset, but he took it to another level this year and was set for an even better year than last season.”

Senior infielder/outfielder Jacob Fargen was one of the Cardinals’ most versatile players. Jorgensen said Fargen’s position would have varied based on pitching matchups, but he was poised for a big year.

“Jacob's quiet and reassuring confidence was a great example of how leaders do not always need to be vocal,” Jorgensen said. “Jacob was completely committed to our program and was a great example of a Middleton player in the weight room, classroom, in open gyms, and on the field.”

Senior Jordan Hellenbrand took major strides from last year and would have likely played first base.

“Jordan has always had an exemplary work ethic, but this year it really clicked for him in all areas,” Jorgensen said. “Jordan was an extremely important 'glue guy' to pull our team together and to help us improve from where we were last year.”

Senior Tommy Richards, a three-sport athlete, was in the mix for playing time in the outfield. The intangibles he brought to the program aren’t easy to find.

“Tommy brings great perspective, understanding, a great work ethic, and optimism to our team,” Jorgensen said. “Tommy is always looking for ways to improve himself as well as the program and cares deeply about the legacy he leaves behind.

“Tommy also was a member of the MHS captain's table and was a captain in multiple sports. His leadership will be missed.”

Jorgensen expected his junior and sophomore classes to lend a big hand, as well.

The junior class won 21 games as a JV team in 2019 and had several players ready to contribute. Now, that group will have to wait until they’re seniors to make their marks.

“The junior class is very talented and deep across the board,” Jorgensen said. “They would have had numerous players pushing for playing time this year.

“There is a nice mix of players in that group of size, speed, athleticism — pitchers who throw strikes, and other players who are capable of playing multiple positions. They will be the foundation of a good team in 2021.”

The sophomore class was also likely to send a few players to the varsity team this season.

“That too is another good group of players coming up, but there were a few players that really stood out over the last 12 months,” Jorgensen said. “The whole sophomore class will need to be varsity ready by next season, even though they haven't played in a high school baseball game since the time they were freshmen. It'll be a tough challenge for them, but one that isn't unique to just our program.”

Jorgensen fully supported the WIAA’s decision to cancel the season. But that didn't make it easy to watch his talented group shut things down before they ever got started.

“Like many other teams across the country, this year's group of seniors will always be thought of as what could have been,” Jorgensen said. “As a group, these seniors made tremendous gains in their leadership skills, their offseason preparation, and had the potential to have a great season both as individuals and as a team.

“Their drive and determination coming into this season was fun to watch and it created a ton of excitement around our program coming into this year. I've been fortunate to coach all of these players for at least three seasons and have developed a special bond with them. Although I'm sad and disappointed about how we will part ways, I know that they will do great things in their near and distant futures.”

 

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