Could Keller be the best Germantown pitcher ever?
Unbeaten hurler NOW Player of the Year
Germantown - Retired Germantown baseball coach Chuck Ritzenthaler recalls the mid-1980s pitching duels between his ace Paul Wagner and Nicolet star Lance Painter. Both Wagner and Painter went on to have Major League careers.
Then he recalls the hard work of steady Paul Frey a short time later, as Frey threw a hard 10-innings in an epic WIAA state quarterfinal win over Onalaska in 1986. His single-game effort remains a baseline for sacrifice and dedication.
Then in the mid-1990s, there was the electric Ben Kaebisch. He could get on streaks with his devastating breaking balls and make seasoned high school players look like T-ballers. He had a 16-strikeout, one-base-runner no-hitter in one regional win.
Then came Tyler Thicke. He has had elbow surgeries, but his talent and potential remain undimmed as he still works to make a successful collegiate career for himself. He stymied an excellent Menomonee Falls in the 2010 WIAA sectional final to help earn Germantown's first state tournament berth since 1986.
And now there is 6-3 lanky and strong Brian Keller, the WBCA State and NOW All-Suburban Player of the Year, who led the Warhawks to their best season ever. A 25-10 final record, the first North Shore Conference title in 22 years and a tantalizing run to the WIAA state championship game, where the Warhawks came up just short against Oak Creek.
UWM gets a 'steal'
Keller may be better than all these other Warhawks greats. He is headed to UW-Milwaukee on a scholarship and veteran Homestead coach Ernie Millard, whose 21-win team Keller one-hit twice, thinks the Panthers are getting "a steal."
"His command of all his pitches is amazing," Millard said. "He can throw any pitch for a strike on any count and he has an outstanding demeanor on the mound. He is totally unflappable. He's not blazing fast, but he gets people out.
"He has outstanding mechanics, a nice, long arm (motion) and his upside is tremendous. He has nowhere near reached his potential."
Keller's coach, Jeff Wolf, agrees.
"He's a special player," Wolf said. "He does everything you ask and more. His command of all his pitches is just incredible. A hard worker, unselfish and very much a team player. I doubt if I'll ever see someone like him again."
In short, Keller's numbers and talent are staggering. He is a fastball (89 miles an hour), slider and change-up pitcher who can throw strikes at any time out of a motion so fluid, it was as if it came out of a baseball handbook.
He finished with an 11-0 record, with one save. His strikeout to walk ratio was an absurd 107 to 13, with an ERA that most top-level girls softball pitchers would kill for (0.42) with a WHIP of just 0.59. He had three one-hitters, stymied powerful spring school University School on just six hits in the season opener (1-0), which was one of six shutouts he had for the summer, and he never had a game where he had more than three walks (five times he had no walks).
The only time Germantown lost when he took the mound, a 4-3 early NSC decision to Cedarburg, he didn't get the loss and the Warhawks committed five errors behind him.
Dominates conference games
He sacrificed much to help Germantown earn this league title, as between June 18 and July 2, he threw five North Shore Conference games, twice going on just two days rest. The results included wins of 7-0, 6-1, 8-2, 8-0, and 9-0, and by the time he was done, Germantown had gone from being just a contender in the North Shore race to the runaway winner.
Keller, who was part of the Warhawks' WIAA state championship basketball team back in March, could also do things with his bat, hitting .337 with a team-high 27 RBIs including a clutch game-tying, two-RBI single in the sectional final against Arrowhead.
"Catching him is as easy as it'll ever be," said second-team All-State and fellow Warhawks All-Suburban selection at catcher Danny Krause. "He hits his spots all the time and has ridiculous command. We had all the confidence in the world when he was on the mound."
And he does not take anything for granted. He ran and he ran after every game for conditioning, despite the miserably hot and dry conditions of this summer and he had a generous heart, too. He helped fellow All-Suburban pitcher Ryan Anderson anytime Anderson had a question.
With Anderson's estimable talent and Keller's aid, the two formed arguably the most devastating one-two pitching punch in the state summer series.
"It was just a great experience pitching with Brian this summer," Anderson said. "A great mentor who helped me a lot. We came up through the Badger Baseball Academy together. I knew he was a special talent.
"And it didn't bother me at all pitching behind him. People knew we weren't a one-person team, but we knew we had a great chance at winning when he was in there."
For Keller himself, it all began with T-ball at age five or six and he started pitching as soon as he was allowed.
"I always wanted to be a pitcher," he said. "I watched the Brewers on TV and I always liked (former Milwaukee great) Ben Sheets. My dad, Steve, (who also pitched at Germantown) was also a huge role model. He (dad) taught me to do things the right way."
Shined as sophomore
Keller's first glimpse of notoriety was winning the 2010 WIAA sectional semifinal over Slinger as a sophomore, which set up Thicke's later dramatics in the sectional final.
Last year was a bit of a transition year as both Keller and the Warhawks struggled a bit. He picked up a little more velocity between seasons and worked hard on his change-up. And in 2012, he was backed by a veteran group of players.
"We had so much talent that I knew if we played our hearts out, we'd have a chance (at big things)," he said, "and pitching on two days rest was nothing new for me. I'd done it a few times last year. It was just whatever the club needed."
And now he'll carry that attitude to UW-Milwaukee, which has a history of using local talent (Ross McCoy and Doug Dekoning of Falls and Sam Sivilotti of Nicolet) to great advantage.
"School will start soon and I'm excited for this opportunity," he said. "I'll get into the weight room and be ready for spring."
"I'll always remember what happened this summer," he said. "It was an awesome year with a good bunch of guys who I'll never forget."
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