Sixers look to make run for WVLL Title this season
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
With a veteran core back and a first-year manager, the Stevens Point Sixers American Legion Baseball team will look to contend for the Wisconsin Valley Legion League (WVLL) Title this season.
The Sixers returned seven starters from last year’s team, and are off to a 6-4 start so far this summer.
“Overall, it’s a very solid team,” said first-year Sixers manager Pat Perner. “We have a lot of speed, we’re not a power-hitting team by any means, and we’re going to be manufacturing a lot of runs throughout the season.
“But I’m looking forward to some good, exciting games from these boys,” he said.
Point lost Second Team All-WVLL outfielder/pitcher Legend Kieliszewski and third baseman Sam Lawrynk from last year’s team that finished 12-16 following a 7-1 loss to Plover in the AAA Regionals, while Pat Perner took over as the field manager for Caleb Bembenek this season after he served as the program’s general manager a year ago.
The Sixers are led at the top of their lineup this season by the return of Honorable Mention All-State center fielder Brady Franz from Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH), 19-year old first baseman Isaac Perner and outfielder JD Schultz of SPASH.
“Brady’s got power and speed leading us off right away, and he brings solid defense,” said Pat Perner. “Isaac can do whatever we ask him to do; he’ll put the ball in play, puts bunts down, and is a solid defensive player.
“And JD’s an all-around natural player as well, he pitches, he’s in the outfield, and he’s started hitting the ball a little more solid here,” he said.
Catcher Jacob Danielsen returns to the lineup as a 19-year old, along with shortstop Justin Morton of SPASH, infielder Nate Helms of Pacelli and infielder/outfielder Zach Zimmerman of Pacelli.
“Jacob is just a solid kid behind the plate for us, very dependable back there, and just does whatever you ask him to do,” said Pat Perner. “We’re moving Justin out of the second base position where he was for SPASH all season, he’s always played short for us and we wanted to get him back in that position where he feels more comfortable, and he’s bringing a very strong bat with him this year, his power has really improved and we’re really seeing some good things from him in the early part of the season.
“Nate is another solid kid on the mound for us, and a solid glove in the field as well,” he said. “And Zach is my utility knife, whoever we have on the mound; he’s filling in basically at that spot. I’ve talked to him and asked him to step in and play at numerous positions: he plays right, center, left, second, short, third, and he will catch for us as well.”
Griffin Firkus has taken over at third base as a 19-year old after he was a Second Team All-WVLL selection as a utility player last summer, and outfielder Reese Gaber of SPASH has moved into the starting lineup, while catcher Isaac Cychosz of Rosholt and SPASH’s Isaac Williams, Cade Konczal, Austin Stankowski, Jamie Praefke, Austin Frafjord and Braden Christophersen are also in the mix for playing time.
“Griffin is filling in a role here with us at third base right now, he didn’t get a lot of playing time last year, but we’re asking him to step into that spot and he’s been doing a pretty good job so far this season,” said Pat Perner. “And Reese is another kid who we’re going to be asking a lot from this year to be on the mound, early this season he’s been one that has really lit some fires batting-wise, his bat’s been one of our hot bats for us, so we’re looking for some big things from Reese, not only on the mound, but with the bat as well.”
Schultz and Helms return at the top of the Sixers’ pitching rotation, while Isaac Perner, Gaber, Zimmerman, Danielsen, Franz, Praefke, Cychosz, Frafjord and Firkus will also see time on the mound.
“JD and Zach will get a lot of innings, Isaac (Perner)’s going to get a lot of innings coming up here, and Reese,” said Pat Perner. “Brady didn’t pitch at all for SPASH this year, so he has hopefully some innings left in his arm through the summer here, so he’ll be seeing a lot of innings as well.
“We have some depth and some very good arms, so we should be fine once we get into the heart of the season,” he said.
Point opened the season with a 7-6 loss at Wausau June 6, and following a 5-3 win at D.C. Everest June 13, suffered conference losses to Plover (6-0), Wisconsin Rapids (8-1) and Antigo (7-6) to slip to 1-4 in the WVLL.
The Sixers bounced back with a 6-5 win over Merrill at Bukolt Park Tuesday, June 25, to improve to 2-4 in the conference, as Gaber went 3-for-3 with two doubles, Franz was 2-for-3 with three runs scored, Morton went 2-for-3 with a double, and Isaac Perner and Helms both had two hits to lead a 14-hit attack for Point, while Zimmerman struck out five and allowed three earned runs in a complete-game victory.
Last season, the Sixers finished sixth in the eight-team conference with a 6-8 record, as Wisconsin Rapids and Antigo each went 10-4 to share the WVLL Title over Plover (9-5), Marshfield (9-5) and Wausau (9-5).
“We’re getting there,” said Isaac Perner. “We’re starting to get going a little bit.
“We started off kind of slow, but we’re getting there,” he said.
Point was scheduled to host Wausau Wednesday, June 26, and play at Merrill Thursday, June 27, before it hosts Nekoosa in a doubleheader at 5 p.m. Friday, June 28.
The Sixers will return to conference play at Bukolt Park against Antigo at 7 p.m. Monday, July 1, and then play rival Plover at Memorial Park at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 3, before they host the Ed Kardach Firecracker Classic at Bukolt Park Thursday through Sunday, July 4-7.
Point is scheduled to follow with four conference games in the next eight days after the Firecracker Classic to close out the regular season, before the Sixers host the AAA Region 2 Regional Tournament at Bukolt Park July 19-22.
“Our goal is to do good at Regionals, and hopefully make it to state,” said Schultz. “Another goal is to combine as a team, and mingle as a team.”
“I put it out there to the boys at the beginning part of the year, and the goal for them is, they want to win conference and they want to compete,” said Pat Perner. “The last couple of years have been up and down and kind of a roller coaster for them, and they just want some stability and they want to go out there knowing that they have a chance to win every game.
“They just want to win and they just want to play good baseball, and that’s what we try to put on the field each time we come out here,” he said. “We may not get the ‘W’ that we want to each night, but we want to put the best baseball team that we can out there for them.”