Experienced Black Sox squad aims for return to State
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
After bringing back its entire lineup from a year ago, the Plover Black Sox American Legion Baseball team will look to get back to the State Tournament this season.
The Black Sox also returned their top seven pitchers from last season, when they finished 30-16 overall.
Plover is off to a 16-9 start so far this summer and entered this week in first place in the Wisconsin Valley Legion League (WVLL), as it heads into the final stretch of the regular season.
“We’ve got that experience of winning the Regional, and then also being super-close to winning the conference,” said Plover manager Wayne Sankey. “The guys really wanted to build off of that, and we thought we could take it to the next level here.
“Obviously that has yet to be determined, but we’re shooting for that Conference Championship,” he said. “And hopefully a return trip back to state.”
Last season, the Black Sox earned a trip to the AAA State Tournament for the first time since 2015, where they were eliminated with a 3-1 loss to Eau Claire to come up a couple of runs short of advancing to the State Championship and securing a trip to the National Regional.
Plover has been led at the top of the order this season by the return of second baseman/third baseman Kaden Roberts of Westfield, shortstop Brett Ehr of Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) and catcher and former Almond-Bancroft High School standout Derek Baumgartner, who was a freshman on the NCAA Division II Winona State (Minn.) baseball team in the spring and earned First Team All-WVLL honors last summer for the second year in a row.
“We’re using Kaden more in the leadoff spot, he pitches a little bit for us too, and threw a nice game against D.C. Everest for us last week (in a 7-0 win June 26),” said Sankey. “Brett is one of our top two pitchers, he does a nice job of mixing and matching different pitches and keeping teams off balance, and I think he’s gotten much better defensively at shortstop too.
“And then Derek is one of those guys that just plays really super hard, and is four-year starter for us and a quality player to have,” he said.
The Black Sox have been led in the middle of the lineup by the return of first baseman Jack Kelly of SPASH, Second Team All-WVLL outfielder and NCAA Division 1 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee recruit Logan Schulfer of SPASH and center fielder Cam Stampfl of Westfield.
“Jack’s obviously one of our better hitters, he leads us in average right now and hits for a lot of power too,” said Sankey. “Logan’s been DHing and playing some outfield, and he’s also been one of our top pitchers, and has done a nice job for us.
“Cam’s been playing a little bit of short, mostly center field, and is top three in our pitching rotation also,” he said. “He threw very well up against Antigo last week (in a 4-2 win June 25); we hadn’t beaten them up there in three, four years, so he did a nice job for us.”
Also back in the starting lineup this season are third baseman/shortstop Austin Beyer of SPASH, outfielder Mason King of SPASH and Mike Glodosky, who returned as a 19-year old this summer after starting at second base a year ago.
“Austin’s starting to come on more with his pitching, he’s doing a nice job getting ahead of hitters and throwing strikes,” said Sankey. “Mason moves around in the outfield for us, and is a nice, quality player that’s also a three-year starter.
“And Mike’s either at second base or in left field, and he made that transition for us defensively to the outfield, which was nice to add some depth for us out there,” he said.
Outfielder Tristan Aldrich of SPASH has also seen regular time in the starting lineup the last two years, while catcher Vinnie Fonti of SPASH, outfielder Dylan Trigg of SPASH, third baseman Dylan Davis of SPASH, utility player Sterling Lutz of Amherst, outfielder/second baseman JJ Lilly of SPASH, first baseman Connor Mrozek of SPASH and outfielder Kenny Schultz of SPASH are also in the mix for playing time.
Plover also brought back an experienced pitching staff from last season, led by Schulfer, Ehr, Stampfl, Beyer, Roberts, Trigg, and Davis at closer, while Mrozek, Schultz, Lutz and Jake Sankey have also logged innings this summer.
“(Going into last weekend), our pitching staff had an ERA below 2.00, which in Legion ball when you play as many games as we have played, is pretty much unheard of,” said Wayne Sankey. “We’ve got guys that just throw strikes; we’ve already got three guys with over 20 innings, and five guys with over 15 innings, so we’ve got the depth to give different guys an opportunity at different times.
“We’re looking for guys to just do their job when they’re called on, and when we have the depth that we have, hopefully that helps us out come playoff time,” he said.
Plover is off to a 7-1 start in the WVLL this season, with a 6-5 loss at home to Wisconsin Rapids June 24, while it has played some of the top teams in the state during non-conference play, to go along with a 1-3 finish at the Fargo (N.D.) Tournament last weekend.
So far this season, the Black Sox are 3-4 against State Tournament teams from a year ago, including a pair of one-run losses to defending State Champion Sheboygan, and wins over State Runner-up Eau Claire and third-place finisher Green Bay Southwest.
“We’re kind of inconsistent on the weekends right now,” said Wayne Sankey. “But I believe our schedule is one of the toughest ones out there, so I think that’s got a lot to do with it, when you’re playing Sheboygan and Eau Claire, and traveling out of state to play some tougher teams too.”
The Black Sox entered this week with a half-game lead at the top of the WVLL standings at 7-1, followed by Antigo (6-1), Wisconsin Rapids (5-1), Stevens Point (3-4), Marshfield (4-5) and Wausau (2-5), while they have six conference games left.
Last season, Antigo and Wisconsin Rapids each finished 10-4 to share the WVLL Title over Plover (9-5), Marshfield (9-5), Wausau (9-5) and Stevens Point (6-8) in the eight-team conference.
“It’s going to get a little bit condensed here, because of the rain that we’ve had, teams haven’t been able to get all of their games in, so now teams are starting to play doubleheaders and that may have an affect on the outcome,” said Wayne Sankey. “Right now you’ve got three teams with one loss, and then you’ve five teams who have at least four losses, so it seems to me that at a little bit more than the halfway point, that there are three teams that have separated themselves.
“But that doesn’t mean that those other teams aren’t capable of beating any of those top three teams either,” he said. “And what we’re looking for is hopefully a strong finish, to find a way to pull out that Championship.”
Plover was scheduled to play at Merrill Tuesday, July 2, and host Stevens Point Wednesday, July 3, before it plays a doubleheader at De Pere Sunday, July 7.
The Black Sox will have a series of key conference games next week, as they host Antigo at 7 p.m. Monday, July 8, play at Marshfield Tuesday, July 9, and host Wisconsin Rapids Wednesday, July 10.
Plover will then play some of the top teams in the state at home when it holds the Central Wisconsin Classic at Veterans Memorial Park Thursday through Sunday, July 11-15, before it is scheduled to close the regular season at Wausau Monday, July 15.
The AAA Region 2 Regional Tournament will follow at Bukolt Park in Stevens Point July 19-22, as the Black Sox will look to qualify for the AAA State Tournament in Chippewa Falls July 26-30.
“The main thing for us is, we want to get better, and we want to be a little bit more consistent,” said Wayne Sankey. “Pitching, out of the three areas, has been the most consistent, our hitting hasn’t been as good as we’ve hoped, and our defense hasn’t been as good as we’ve hoped either.
“We’ve lost five, one-run games out of our nine losses, so if we can find a way to just do something a little bit extra on the defensive or offensive side, we could be dangerous,” he said. “And that’s what we’re looking to be by the time the playoffs come.”