Stevens Point Sixers look to contend in WVLL
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
After coming up a win short of advancing to state last year, the Stevens Point Sixers American Legion Baseball team will look to fight for the Wisconsin Valley Legion League (WVLL) Title and a trip to the AAA State Tournament this season.
The Sixers return a handful of starters and most of their pitching staff from last year’s team that finished 17-13, following a pair of losses in the Championship Game of the double-elimination Regional Tournament.
Point is off to a 3-4 start this season, and will be home this weekend to host the 46th Ed Kardach Firecracker Classic at Bukolt Park Thursday through Sunday, June 28 to July 1.
“So far we’re doing pretty good,” said first-year Sixers manager Caleb Bembenek. “We have guys from four different schools, Pacelli, Rosholt, SPASH and Amherst, and we’re coming together as a team and starting to click overall.”
Last season, the Sixers went 3-0 to advance to the Championship Game of the Regional Tournament in Plover, where they lost to Wausau 7-6 in 10 innings and 13-5 to have their season come to a close.
An assistant coach for the Rosholt High School baseball team, Bembenek took over as Point’s manager this season and brought along his former Sixer teammate Nathan Olds as an assistant coach, after they previously coached the Junior Sixers together.
Point lost center fielder Gus Turner-Zick, shortstop Andy Tepp, second baseman Jacob Piotrowski and catcher Josh Morton from last year’s team, along with Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) All-State third baseman Cole Wright, who is not playing this summer heading into his freshman season with the NCAA Division II Winona State (Minn.) football team.
“We lost a lot of guys, they decided not to come back, which was unfortunate,” said Bembenek. “But we pulled up a lot of juniors from last year, Olds and I coached them last year, so we know the team pretty well.
“A lot of them developed this high school season, and it should be a fun season, once they get going and get rolling,” he said.
Returning from the lineup a year ago are infielder/outfielder Zach Zimmerman and second baseman Nate Helms of Pacelli, and outfielder Brady Franz of SPASH and outfielder Legend Kieliszewski, who missed his senior season of baseball at SPASH this spring due to an injury.
“Zach and Nate are lethal back-to-back, they’ve got speed, they’ve got natural talent, and they’re good up the middle,” said Bembenek. “Brady and Legend are always good, they’re fast, and we’ve got a lot of speed overall as a team.”
First baseman/outfielder Isaac Perner of SPASH also returns as a starter, while third baseman Sam Lawrynk of SPASH has earned a regular starting spot, with outfielder JD Schultz and infielder Brennan Mueller of SPASH also back from a year ago.
“Isaac and Sam have probably been our two biggest leaders,” said Bembenek. “When we need a hit, they’ve got it, when we need them to pitch, they’ve got it.
“They bring a good attitude coming through every game,” he said.
Joining the team’s lineup this season are second baseman Justin Morton and catcher Jacob Danielsen of SPASH, while SPASH’s Austin Stankowski, Reese Gaber, Braden Christophersen and Nick Silva, Griffin Firkus of Amherst, and Rosholt’s Hunter Garski, Johnny Suwyn and Logan McHugh are all in the mix for playing time.
Point brings back most of its pitching staff from a year ago, led by WBCA Honorable Mention All-State pitcher Schultz, Helms, Franz, Kieliszewski, Perner, Zimmerman and Mueller, while Gaber, Suwyn, Silva, McHugh and Morton have also seen time on the mound this summer.
“We can always rely on JD to throw strikes and be our No. 1,” said Bembenek. “Reese throws hard and is really good, and Johnny pitches pretty well.
“Our pitching’s doing pretty good,” he said. “We haven’t really been hitting very well, we’ve been throwing some things together, seeing who can do what and who’s developed in what spots, to see how we can go from there in the second half.”
The Sixers have been up and down in the WVLL so far this season, with losses to Antigo (7-6), Marshfield (12-6), Plover (6-3) and Wisconsin Rapids (12-3), to go along with a 6-0 victory over reigning Regional Champion Wausau Wednesday, June 20, and a pair of wins over Merrill (13-3 and 22-5).
Point was home Tuesday, June 26, against D.C. Everest and rallied for six runs in the bottom of the first inning to take a 6-2 lead with one out and a runner on second base, when the game was suspended due to rain.
The Sixers will be back at home this weekend for the Firecracker Classic at Bukolt Park, where they will again face D.C. Everest at 7 p.m. Thursday, then take on Altoona at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 29.
Point will conclude round-robin play against Kimberly at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, June 30, while the semifinals for the tournament will be Sunday at 8:30 and 11:30 a.m., with the Championship Game scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
“The Firecracker is really important to us, and we’d like to go and win it,” said Bembenek. “The last couple of years we’ve kind of struggled a little bit, but we’re looking to get some positive momentum going.”
With the Sixers at the midway point of the conference season, Plover (6-2) closed Tuesday night a half-game ahead of Marshfield (5-2) at the top of the WVLL, followed by Wisconsin Rapids (4-2), Antigo (4-2), Wausau (5-4), Point (3-4), Merrill (1-5) and D.C. Everest (0-7).
The Sixers will return to conference play at home against Antigo at 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 2, and will look to continue to progress heading into the AAA Regional Tournament July 24-27.
“We’d like to win Regionals,” said Bembenek. “We think we’re going to be competitive to take first place in the Valley, that’d be really great, we haven’t done that since 2002.
“But it’s a great group of guys, a great coaching staff, and great parents to help us out too,” he said. “I’m looking forward to a good rest of the season.”