Gritty Germantown baseball team earned second straight NSC title
Fleischman, other key seniors led way
There wasn't any magic like there was in the WIAA state runner-up run of last year for the Germantown baseball team, just a grinding, hard slog through an incredibly balanced North Shore Conference with a large number of impossibly close games to get through.
So that's why the Warhawks second straight North Shore Conference championship trophy shines almost brighter than the one they claimed in 2012.
"Whenever a season ends like ours did (a disappointing WIAA regional final loss to Slinger), it's disappointing," third-year coach Jeff Wolf said. "Everyone has the same dream (of a state title), but only one team can claim it (first-time champion New Berlin West), but I was very proud of our team, because we had so many new faces and new starters.
"So to win a conference title in the face of all that is quite a feat. It's sometimes harder to win a conference title than it is a state championship because you can get hot for five or six games in a row (and win state) but to claim conference you have to do it over an 18-game course."
Tough, balanced conference
The Warhawks finished 16-11 overall and 13-5 in the North Shore, one game clear of both Cedarburg and Homestead (12-6 each). So balanced was the league that nine of the 10 teams in it won at least eight conference games each.
What won the crown for Germantown was a late season stretch where they won four league games in a row including back-to-back, one-run heart-stoppers over Whitefish Bay (6-5) and Grafton (8-7). Those victories had followed a discouraging one-run loss at Nicolet.
"I just loved their perseverance," Wolf said. "There were a number of games where we made mistakes, especially on defense, which was our biggest shortcoming, but we never panicked, we never pointed fingers or got down on ourselves.
"We just kept our composure and played to the last out."
Part of the reason for that was the work of three senior leaders who knew what it was like to reach the promised land like the Warhawks did last season.
Returning NOW All-Suburban pitcher and team ace Ryan Anderson (7-3 record, 44 strikeouts and 23 walks, 2.43 ERA); shortstop Jordan Kuczynski (.389 batting average, 15 walks, 30 runs, 28 RBI); and first baseman Blake Fleischman (.430 BA, 40 hits, four home runs, 29 RBI, 25 runs). They all filled in the gaps as best they could, and tried to make up for the losses of 2012 State Player of the Year Brian Keller and All-Suburban catcher Danny Krause.
"Ryan had to battle a little tendonitis from early on in the season, but he never complained," Wolf said. "...It was sore, but he really gave us what he could.
"And Jordan in the starting lineup was a big reason we were able to turn it around this season. He solidified the infield. It was no coincidence that when he was playing well we were playing well."
He saved his highest praise for the four-year letter-winner Fleischman.
"...No one works harder than he does," Wolf said. "He worked so hard in the off-season that we almost had to tell him to take a break. He was one of the greatest hitters that I've had a privilege to coach. Whenever we needed a key hit, he delivered."
To no one's surprise, all three earned first-team all-conference as both Kuczynski and Fleischman won big games on the hill, too, for the Warhawks.
And newcomers did their part, too. Junior third baseman Randy Finger (.301 BA) provided a big bat down the stretch coming up with one big hit after another ("He really helped in the middle of the lineup," Wolf said) and first-year senior Joey Szopinski made second base his own, hitting .359 with 22 runs scored and 22 RBI for the season and earning second-team all-conference honors.
Szopinski was so well thought of, that he was named a quad-captain of the team along with Anderson, Kuczynski and Fleischman.
Underclassmen roam outfield
The entire outfield was made up of underclassmen including Joey Sykora ("Steady and consistent," Wolf said), Ben Eggert and Justin Powalish, and catcher Sam Essmann (.968 defensive average, just four errors in 124 chances) was also an underclassmen who earned valuable experience. Senior Scott Johnson was the designated hitter a lot of the season.
"We knew what we were getting out of Ryan, Jordy and Blake," Wolf said, "but a lot of other people worked to fill in the gaps."
The junior varsity and freshmen teams had credible years, Wolf added. He said it will be an interesting season next year as many of those players will battle for spots on the varsity.
"We're going to need some pitching," he said noting that Danny Knutson and Zach Benn are the top returning candidates on the hill. "This was a fun year. We'll see where it goes next season."
KEY NUMBERS: Team batting average .319 with 182 runs scored (6.7 per game). Team ERA 4.24 with 115 strikeouts and 68 walks. Team defensive average .932 (best individual fielder Fleischman, just three errors in 198 total chances with a .985 average).
SENIORS: Anderson, Fleischman, Kuczynski, Johnson, Sam Midlikowski, Szopinski and Tyler Stowell.
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