Plover Black Sox prepare for late-season push
With most of its core gone from the last three years, the
Plover Black Sox American Legion baseball team remains in the hunt for another
Wisconsin Valley Legion League (WVLL) Title this season.
The Black Sox lost five starters from last year’s team that
won its eighth consecutive WVLL Title, advanced to the AAA State Championship
Game for the third year in a row and earned its third consecutive trip to the National
At 8-12 overall and 3-3 in the WVLL this season, Plover
trails Stevens Point (4-1), Wausau (3-1) and Marshfield (4-2) in the conference
standings, and will face each of the three teams in the next week to close out
the WVLL schedule.
“We’ve been trying to find the right buttons to push, and
the guys are out there playing hard,” said Plover manager Wayne Sankey. “But
there just seems to be something different each day that’s not clicking and not
causing us to win.
“But at the same point, every Valley game that we’ve lost
has been a one-run game,” he said. “What we’re focusing on is trying to get
better, and by the end of the season, be the best team we can be.”
The Black Sox lost pitcher/first baseman Cal Giese, pitcher
Alex Lee, center fielder Jon Barnes, infielder/pitcher Alex Slowey, shortstop
Tyler Nalbach, third baseman Jake Ligenza and pitcher Nick Lilienthal from last
season’s State Runner-up team that finished 29-14 overall after it went 1-2 at
the Great Lakes National Regional in Alton, Ill.
“It’s definitely a different team, and we knew that was
going to happen,” said Sankey. “We’re playing some young guys, and we have a
couple of guys that were on the team last year, and it’s just the way it is.
“You’re going to have some turnover, and it’s still exciting
for us as coaches to see what we can do with the current guys too,” he said.
Joining the starting lineup for Plover this season is First
Team All-Central Wisconsin Conference-10 (CWC-10) shortstop/catcher Derek
Baumgartner of Almond-Bancroft and First Team All-CWC-10 and CWC-10 Player of
the Year Johl Turzinski of Almond-Bancroft at second base, while Unanimous First
Team All-Wisconsin Valley Conference (WVC) and WVC co-Player of the Year Matt
McHugh of Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) returns in the
“Derek’s a 16-year-old, sometimes he catches, sometimes he
plays shortstop, and shortstop’s not his natural position, but he’s a good
athlete,” said Sankey. “Johl’s been walking a lot and stealing some bases for
“And Matt is typically in either left or right field, and is
a big-time contact guy,” he said.
First baseman D.J. Drohner is back as a 19-year-old and First
Team All-South Central Conference (SCC) catcher Keegan Johnston of Westfield
also returns as a starter, while First Team All-WVC outfielder Nick Schroeder has
seen regular playing time after serving as the team’s top relief pitcher last
“D.J. is the one guy that’s been around for the last three
years, he’s a middle of the lineup guy for us and has been driving in runs,”
said Sankey. “Keegan has been catching, and we’ve been moving him more to the
DH to try to rest him a little bit, and it seems to be when he DHs, he starts
to hit the ball a little bit more.
“Nick’s been playing some in the outfield, but he’s recently
been hurt, he’s got a back strain, so we’re trying to get him healthy here for
the end of the season push,” he said.
Outfielder/designated hitter Brandon Patoka of SPASH and
third baseman Evan Mallek of SPASH have had regular roles this season, while
Jamison Kryshak of SPASH moved to center field after playing right field last
“Six, seven, eight, nine (in the lineup) can be a toss up,”
said Sankey. “We’ve been playing Brandon
in left field, and Evan has been a streaky hitter for us this year.
“And then Jamison’s probably our best defensive outfielder,”
Also seeing playing time for the Black Sox are Honorable
Mention All-CWC-10 infielder Carter Newby of Almond-Bancroft, Second Team
All-SCC utility player Mitch Bignell of Westfield, Second Team All-CWC-8 third
baseman Jake Thomas of Pacelli and SPASH’s Kevin Jastromski, Cam Lee, Grant
Roth, Gavin Erbes, Aaron Baker and Bailey Houston.
“Our defense hasn’t been the best, and our team batting average
is right around .265,” said Sankey. “That’s a tough combination, but we’re
trying to get better every time out.”
Leading the pitching staff are Schroeder and Cam Lee, with
Jastromski, Erbes, Mallek, Roth, Turzinski, Bignell, Houston, Thomas, Kryshak and
Baumgartner also available to log innings.
“Nick had some nice starts at the beginning of the year, but
obviously now he’s injured,” said Sankey. “Cam is a work in progress, he’s only
a 16-year-old and the first time up on varsity, so we’re trying to get him some
work, and he’s got a lot of potential.
“We use Kevin in relief, he’s our rubber-arm type of kid
that we can pitch a lot, and from there it’s just going to who’s been most
effective lately,” he said. “Gavin has been decent when given the chance, and
we found a new pitcher this weekend in Grant Roth.
“And that’s why we like to play as many games as possible,
just to try to figure out who we can use and who we can count on as the season
progresses,” he said.
Heading into their home game against Merrill Wednesday, July
6, the Black Sox are 3-3 in the WVLL this season, with wins over seventh-ranked
Merrill (6-3) and D.C. Everest (7-6), and losses to D.C. Everest (3-2), Stevens Point (5-4) and Wausau (4-3).
Plover is scheduled to play Wausau at Memorial Park at 7
p.m. Thursday, July 7, and then close the conference season at Marshfield at Tuesday, July 12, and at Stevens Point at Wednesday, July 13, as they chase a
ninth consecutive Conference Title.
“Right now Point is leading at 4-1, and Wausau’s got a decent team and so does Marshfield,” said Sankey.
“But you look at a team like Point, who’s 4-1, but then they’re 1-7 in
nonconference, and we don’t have a very good nonconference record and some
other teams don’t either, so is our conference weak? I don’t know what the
“It’ll be interesting when we get into a Regional situation
where you’ve got to play back-to-back-to-back, and maybe even four, nine-inning
games,” he said. “When you look at who’s beaten who and how close a lot of the
games are, I think it’s really a toss up this year, as far as the Region.
Obviously Point’s out to a lead here, but the tougher part of the schedule’s
coming up for some teams too, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens.”
After the conference season wraps up, the Black Sox will
host the 27th annual Dan Schlutter Central Wisconsin Classic Thursday through
Sunday, July 14-17, before the Region 2 AAA Regional Tournament will be held at
through Saturday, July 19-23.
Marshfield already has an automatic berth as the host of
this year’s State Tournament, which means that either Plover, Stevens Point,
Wausau or D.C. Everest will also advance to state this year from the Regional,
as the Black Sox will look to make their sixth trip in a row.
“Our main focus right now is our league games, to try to
improve and get better during the week,” said Sankey. “That way when we get
into our home tournament, we want to be competitive.
“But we want to get ready for the Regional now and hopefully
get healthy going into the end of the year,” he said.