There will be a new head coach in the dugout for three of the county’s four high school baseball teams this spring. Only Jay Kita of Gibraltar/Washington Island is returning as the Packerland Conference prepares for play as soon as the weather cooperates.
After two years of only eight conference games and the cancellation of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, coaches are looking forward to return to a full 16-game conference schedule. To get the games in, however, the league has scheduled conference matchups as doubleheaders, which will put stress on pitching depth.
The Vikings went 2-6 in the Packerland Conference and 10-13 overall last year while winning a regional championship in Division 4.
Jay Kita returns for his 20th season as head coach, ready to lean on two second-team All-Conference performers who are back from last year: Senior outfielder Rylan Caldecott batted .429 in 2022, and sophomore catcher Brady Kita batted .315.
Also returning are seniors Hayden Reetz, who batted .364 as a utility fielder/designated hitter, and Will Friedenfels, a .207 batter as an outfielder. Other players of note who are back include pitcher Noah Greene, who compiled a 5-3 record on the mound last season, infielder Aidan Purinton and outfielder Carl Burgess.
Jay Kita said this year’s team has one of the better outfields in the Packerland, plus depth at pitching and strong infield defense and catching.
The Vikings’ top players who graduated include pitcher/infielder Sam Lindenberg, who was named to the All-Conference first team; first baseman Cooper Cole, who received honorable mention in the Packerland; and shortstop Kevin Krauel.
Jay Kita said the Vikings may struggle to replace two of their top three hitters in Lindenberg and Cole from last season, but he said he’s looking forward to seeing what his younger pitchers can do.
“Also, my son Nick Kita will be my assistant coach this year, [and] having him coach with me, and also both of us coaching [our] son and brother, Brady, [will be] special,” he said.
The Eagles will have several returning players and a new head coach this season as they seek a third consecutive Packerland Conference championship.
John Berns played baseball for Southern Door during the 1960s and is in his first year as a head coach at his alma mater. But he’s no stranger to the game, having been a head coach for 19 years at Sturgeon Bay and Sevastopol, and coaching 21 years total. He replaces Dave Neinas, who resigned in February.
Berns takes over a Southern Door squad that went undefeated in league play last year to win the Packerland title at 8-0 and finished the season 19-4 overall.
The Eagles’ top returning players include last year’s Packerland Player of the Year, senior infielder Jack Peterson, who led the league with a batting average of .710, as well as another unanimous All-Conference selection, senior outfielder Christian Counard, who ranked second in the league with a batting average of .538.
Also returning for Southern Door is an All-Conference pitcher in sophomore Tyler Neinas, plus a second-team outfielder, senior Jaden Diller.
Berns expects significant contributions from catcher Derek Schinktgen, outfielder Alec Guilette, first baseman/pitcher Jared Hawkey, designated hitter/pitcher Taylor Schaefer, third baseman/pitcher Will Jandrin, first baseman/pitcher Matthew Malvitz and pitcher/infielder/outfielder Drew Daoust.
Berns said the strengths on this year’s team include being “strong up the middle, with experienced players at catcher, pitcher, second base, shortstop and center field,” and having “many multiple-sport athletes who have contributed to numerous winning teams throughout their high school careers.”
Though the Eagles have pitching depth, he said most of the pitchers “need to develop a better command of the strike zone if we are to reach our full potential.”
Berns sums up the team’s goals as “learn, improve and enjoy the experience. If we meet those goals, another Packerland Conference championship and a strong tournament run may well be within our reach.”
The Clippers are looking to move up the Packerland Conference standings with first-year coach Neal Henrigillis, formerly the head coach at Peshtigo for six years. Henrigillis is a social-studies teacher at Sturgeon Bay and takes over the Clippers’ varsity baseball program from Mike Propsom, who remains with the team as an assistant coach.
Sturgeon Bay placed fourth last season in the Packerland Conference at 5-3 and compiled an overall record of 7-12. The team returns two players who were named to the conference’s second team: senior infielder/pitcher Emmett Braschnewitz and junior catcher/pitcher Curt Meyer.
Another top player whom Henrigillis hopes to have back by the middle of the baseball season is junior pitcher/infielder Danny Lodl, who is recovering from an ankle injury sustained last fall while playing quarterback for the Clippers’ football team.
Henrigillis said the team will rely heavily on a large number of sophomores and juniors.
“Their competitive spirit will keep us in games throughout the year,” he said. “This group of baseball players is a tight-knit group and will continue to grow as the spring goes on. We will be a completely different team at the end of the season compared to the start.”
However, Henrigillis said the overall depth and number of players is “a little low, which may put stress on our program when we have to play split games [when the junior varsity is in one location and the varsity is in another location at the same time].”
Henrigillis said that the team’s goals are to improve as the season progresses and finish in the top three in the conference, and that he’s also looking forward to growing the program by having the players “buy into the culture of excellence, selflessness and energy” and “bringing in the youth program to overlap with the high school program.”
Henrigillis said he expects Kewaunee and Southern Door to compete for the Packerland title and could be possible state-bound teams.
The Pioneers have a new head coach for a young team that’s filling positions where players have graduated. Jim Smasal – who retired as Kewaskum’s school superintendent and also has a background as a coach and athletic director – replaces Tom Ash as the head coach.
Sevastopol went 1-7 in the Packerland Conference and 4-12 overall last season. Smasal returns several players who saw significant playing time in 2022, including seniors Nick Peterson, Henry Bley and Mason Bosman; juniors Drake Olson and Frankie de Young; and sophomore Tyler Grooters.
Smasal said the Pioneers have a number of players who can pitch, but they’re lacking experience playing varsity baseball with each other. He also said he aims to play “good, fundamental baseball.”
Smasal is most concerned about “inexperience and not getting down when mistakes are made,” but he’s looking forward to “being around the boys [and] seeing them grow as baseball players and men.”