Coaches say: Plenty of opportunities for Wildcat baseballWildcat baseball coach Ryan Bishop describes 2012 as “a season of opportunity.” And he’s not just referring to his players.
By: Bob Burrows, River Falls Journal
Wildcat baseball coach Ryan Bishop describes 2012 as “a season of opportunity.” And he’s not just referring to his players.
Bishop, the longest tenured coach in the Big Rivers Conference beginning his 12th season at the helm, will serve as co-head coach this season along with former NCAA Division I All-American and Arizona Diamondbacks minor leaguer Mark Hallberg.
Bishop and Hallberg will guide a Wildcat team that returns just three everyday starters and one pitcher from a 2011 team that put together a record of 14-10 overall, 7-5 and tied for third place in the BRC. The Wildcats have posted nine straight winning seasons and reached the regional championship game in each of those nine years.
“There’s excitement every year starting a new season,” Bishop said. “This year seems to have a little more excitement than usual. A big reason for that excitement is the amount of opportunity in front of our young team. Also exciting is the opportunity to work with new co-head coach Mark Hallberg.”
Hallberg said he’s been impressed with the work the team has put in preparing for the season.
“Daily preparation meets opportunities to perform,” he said. “Our team has done a good job preparing the first two weeks of pre-season and we will continue to work efficiently towards developing character and good ball players throughout the season.”
Among the players lost to graduation were J.P. Feyereisen, Collin Pechacek and Nate Soley. Feyereisen is currently pitching at UW-Stevens Point and Pechacek is an outfielder at UW-Stout while Soley is leading off and playing centerfield at Lakeland College in Sheboygan.
“That says a lot about our program,” Bishop said about the three alumni all seeing collegiate action as freshmen. “And it shows these younger guys that they too can do those things if they work hard.”
While the Cats lost seven seniors from last year’s squad, they return a pair of All-BRC Honorable Mention selections in catcher Ryan Kusilek and outfielder Alex Call. Kusilek caught virtually every inning as a junior last year and accounted for just four passed balls and three errors, while Call, who hit .364 as a sophomore infielder, is making the transition to the outfield after recovering from an arm injury.
“Ryan will be counted on to help lead our young pitchers into their first varsity action,” Bishop said. “He has proven he has what it takes to lead our team and will no doubt be a strong point in our defense.”
Senior Jake Kerr is the only returning pitcher with varsity experience. Senior Ben Peters, juniors Josh Rudesill and Dylan Kusilek, and sophomore Sam Barr should also see plenty of action on the mound.
“Our focus is on making hitters put the ball in play and letting our defense make the plays,” Bishop said.
Joining Call in the outfield will be seniors Aaron Anderson and Spencer Kempf with juniors Justin Kelm and Aaron Rodewald also in the mix. Rodewald will also back up Kusilek behind the plate.
Bishop said the Cats have a lot of questions that need to be answered in the infield. Senior Brad Erdrich, the only returning starter from a year ago, is recovering from a broken wrist.
“He will not be able to bat but we are hoping he is able to play shortstop in the field,” Bishop said. “Jake Kerr saw some time at first base last spring and will be the starter there this year when he’s not on the mound. The rest of the infield is up for grabs.”
Bishop said senior Brandon Schmidt and sophomore Sam Lenzen, along with Kelm, Rudesill and Barr, will all compete for infield spots this season.
The BRC preseason coach’s poll lists Eau Claire Memorial as the team to beat this season while the Wildcats are predicted to finish fifth. Bishop said the Cats’ focus will be on getting better every day and controlling the things they can control.
“That’s throwing strikes on the mound, being a tough out at the plate, and not giving extra outs on defense,” he said. “As long as we focus on those things we can walk off the field feeling good about ourselves. I think some teams will overlook us more than they should this year.”
“We’ve had a good first couple weeks of practice,” Bishop said. “The guys are working hard to improve and show us that they will do what it takes to get better. Coach Hallberg and I are both excited to see that transfer to the game field.”