Nate Stevens photo

Nate Stevens hit .512 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs last season to lead Waunakee to the WIAA Division 1 state title.

Three things to watch

No more ‘Boys of Summer:’ Last year marked the final WIAA state summer baseball season. As a result, 49 teams that previously didn’t start their seasons until late May are immersed in a brand new world in March of this year. One of the resultant changes sends Beloit Memorial, Janesville Craig and Parker and Milton into the Oconomowoc sectional, against six teams from the Classic 8 Conference and Sussex Hamilton, all previous summer programs.

Injury report: Jefferson’s hopes for a return to the Division 2 state title game took a hit when ace pitcher Ryan Brost suffered an injury that is expected to sideline him for the season. Last year, Brost went 7-0 with a 0.87 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 48⅓ innings, and hit .375 with 15 RBIs.

Middleton’s connected coach: Brent Jorgensen has taken over as head coach at Middleton, replacing 16-year veteran Tom Schmitt. Jorgensen, 27, is the son of former Minnesota Twins player Terry Jorgensen, now head coach at Luxemburg-Casco, and the nephew of Tim Jorgensen, head coach at Ashwaubenon. Brent’s wife, Marlee, is the niece of Kansas City Royals third-base coach Mike Jirschele, the daughter of former Wisconsin football player Dave Arneson and the sister of former UW football player Sam Arneson.

Players to watch

Drake Baldwin, sr., Madison West: A three-year starter at catcher for the Regents, Baldwin earned all-Big Eight second-team honors last year, hitting .344 with 12 RBIs and 16 runs scored.

Dan Blomgren, sr., Janesville Craig: Committed to Michigan. Hit .365 last year with 16 RBIs and nine extra-base hits. Ranked ninth among state seniors by Prep Baseball Report.

Tyler Chadwick, jr., RHP, Marshall: Committed to West Virginia. Ranked second in the class of 2020 by Prep Baseball Report.

Tyler Denu, sr., P/1B, Mount Horeb: A two-time all-Badger North Conference pitcher, the lefty will play at the University of Evansville next season. Denu went 5-2 last season with a 2.52 earned-run average and 68 strikeouts in 50 innings. He also hit .321 with 11 RBIs.

Ryne Fueger, sr., OF, Waunakee: Hit .407 with 19 RBIs and nine doubles last year. Named a first-team all-Badger North player and honorable mention all-state pick by coaches.

Joe Hauser, jr., SS, Waunakee: A transfer from Sun Prairie who is ranked fourth in the state class of 2020 by Prep Baseball Report. Has speed up to 90 mph on his fastball, and can throw two types of breaking balls and a sinking changeup. Hit .394 with 15 RBIs last year.

Jack Krumbach, sr., OF, Madison Memorial: Committed to Xavier before his junior year of high school. Krumbach was selected as an at-large player to the all-Big Eight first team last year and earned his second All-City honor after leading Memorial in stolen bases and a number of other offensive categories.

Dylan Nevar, jr., OF, Wisconsin Dells: A third-team all-state and unanimous all-South Central Conference player last year, Nevar went 6-0 with a 1.02 earned-run average in 41⅓ innings. He also hit .406 and drove in 20 runs as a sophomore.

Nate Stevens, sr., C, Waunakee: Last year’s Wisconsin Baseball Central Player of the Year. The Arkansas recruit, a left-handed hitter, hit .512 last season, with 38 RBIs, eight doubles, three triples and eight home runs for the Division 1 state champions.

Liam Stumpf, so., 3B/P, Mineral Point: Hit .481 with 36 RBIs and 19 extra-base hits last season, as the Pointers advanced to the WIAA Division 3 state tournament. Also went 4-1 as a pitcher with a 3.71 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 32 innings. Named an honorable mention all-district player by the state coaches.

Justin Swanson, jr., SS/P, Johnson Creek: Named a second-team all-West Central District player by state coaches. Will be the Bluejays’ pitching ace (5-1 last year with a 1.80 ERA and 50 strikeouts) and leadoff hitter (.484 last year, with six doubles and 23 RBIs).

Mitchell Woelfle, sr., Janesville Craig: Air Force recruit. Went 6-3 with a 2.70 earned-run average last year. Leads a deep and proven pitching staff for the Cougars.

Conference previews

Badger North

Waunakee coach Spencer Lee’s defending state champions, ranked No. 4 in the Wisconsin Baseball Central pre-season rankings, will present much the same look as last year’s 21-6 team. Six players return, led by the reigning state player of the year, catcher and Arkansas recruit Nate Stevens, a fourth-year starter who hit .512 with eight homers, three triples and 38 RBIs last season. In addition, the Warriors add Joe Hauser, a transfer from Sun Prairie who hit a three-run homer to beat his former team in the season opener. Ryne Fueger earned first-team all-conference honors last year, and senior Dane Luebke and sophomores Taiten Manriquez, Will Ross and Nick Smith also return.

Mount Horeb is expected to be one of Waunakee’s top challengers in the Badger North, along with DeForest, Beaver Dam and Reedsburg. Coach Ryan Finley’s Vikings made it to the sectional semifinal round last year, falling to Edgerton. The leader will be two-time all-Badger North pitcher Tyler Denu, a University of Evansville recruit. The Vikings have another strong pitcher in senior Jordan Schaefer, who will play for Lawrence University next year. The center fielder is senior Stuard Woller, a three-year starter whom Finley calls “the best leader I’ve ever coached.”

Beaver Dam shared the Badger North championship with eventual state champion Waunakee last season, Nate Wilke’s first as the Golden Beavers’ head coach. Back this year is second baseman Max Klawitter (.397, 19 RBIs), a second-team all-league pick, senior pitcher/infielder Brandon LeBeau (a catcher last year), senior pitcher Neil Braker and senior Kendric Jimenez, now at third base. Junior Ian Wendt-Utrie will step into the catcher’s role.

DeForest returns five seniors from last year’s 13-10 team, which lost to Waunakee in the sectional final. Five players who earned all-conference honors were lost to graduation. Sophomore infielder Mason Kirchberg (.400) earned all-Badger North honorable mention last year. Returning seniors are infielders Trey Kirchberg (.314) and Luke Beyer and outfielder Jack Purcell and Carson Patzner. Senior infielder Jared Stuttgen returns after missing last season with an injury.

Reedsburg hopes to mount a challenge in the Badger North race, with an experienced lineup led by senior catcher Hayden Hahn and designated hitter Dakota Deitrich, both second-team all-Badger North picks last year. Senior Jahdiel Rivera-Guzman earned all-league honorable mention last year.

Baraboo coach Steve Considine hopes to challenge for another Badger North title after winning in 2017. Seven starters return to a team that went 12-15 overall last year — but 0-12 in the Badger North. Trevor Adams, a senior pitcher/center fielder, earned all-Badger North honorable mention last year. Senior Brady Quinn is expected to be the ace of the pitching staff. Senior right fielder Ryan Gehin returns, and senior Caden Blum moves from the infield to left field. Considine aims to shore up the defense, led by senior Brock Turkington at second base and sophomore Payton Steiner, who is moving from second base to shortstop.

Sauk Prairie opened the season with impressive victories over Riverdale and Beloit Memorial, but lost its Badger North opener to Reedsburg. Bryant Schaaf, Domenic Adair and Ben German should handle the bulk of the pitching work, and Schaaf also is expected to provide punch on offense for the Eagles.

Portage is led by senior outfielder Wyatt Deloof, a second-team all-Badger North pick last year, and honorable mention picks Matthew Miles, a junior catcher who hit .318 in conference play last year, and Austin Stensrud, a senior infielder who hit .300. Seven other varsity players return, led by fourth-year varsity infielder Kaden Lehman.

Badger South

Watertown coach Andy Cashin expects “our team to be competitive with anyone we play” and expects to be in the race for a repeat Badger South title. The team suffered some graduation losses, but returns a pair of all-conference honorees in senior catcher Ben Rothweiler (.480 batting average and 19 RBIs last year) and senior designated hitter Brett Faltersack (.491 batting average).

Oregon coach Jacob Soule returns 11 letterwinners, including five starters, and lost only three starters from last year’s 11-12 team. “When you have 10 returning seniors, you rely on all of them to step up and lead the way,” Soule said. The most experienced of the bunch is Jack Haufle (.305 batting average, 15 RBIs). Also back are seniors Zach Tower (.310 batting average with 17 RBIs; 0-2 pitching record, 2.58 ERA), Cam Carpenter (.350, 2-0 pitching record, 0.00 ERA, 10 strikeouts), Kyler Schriever (.310) and Noah Brindley (.310, 3-2, 5.30 ERA, 24 strikeouts). A top newcomer to the varsity lineup is junior shortstop Eddie Saucedo, and first baseman Matt Rusch has shown early punch as a slugger.

Monroe struggled last year, going 1-19 overall and 0-14 in the league, but coach Eric Losenegger has 10 returning letterwinners to fuel a move up in the standings, including a deep pitching rotation. Senior second baseman Dagan Rach (.203 last year) is a three-year varsity starter, as is senior pitcher Michael Lange (1-5, 6.23 earned-run average). Also back is junior first baseman Payton Stauffacher (.284), senior pitcher/catcher Trevor Meier (.212), senior utility player Hayden Zahradka (.221), junior pitcher/catcher Jared Dillon (0-3, 6.54 ERA), senior pitcher Jared Cline and senior catcher/infielder Conner Foley. Senior pitcher Jared Baumgartner is currently out with an injury, but Losenegger hopes he will return to action.

Madison Edgewood returns senior infielder Thomas Hartlieb, a first-team all-Badger South pick; senior pitcher Jackson Wendler, a second-team honoree; and senior honorable mention all-league picks Andrew Newton and Jack Hastreiter.

Fort Atkinson coach Andy Schwantes has a young but talented lineup, led by pitcher Dayne Sebranek, sophomore infielder Ethan Heagney (a second-team all-league pick last year) and junior catcher Cody Zahn (honorable mention last year).

Monona Grove returns a wealth of experience, with three seniors who earned second-team all-Badger South honors last year in pitcher Mike Zande, outfielder Trenton Herber and infielder Connor Handel.

Milton coach Jeff Agnew returns three players who earned all-league honorable mention last year: seniors Bailey Nickel and Memphis Moore and junior Colin Schuetz. Keegan Knutson will hit leadoff, and Fletcher Terrill homered in a victory over Madison Edgewood earlier this week.

Stoughton faces a rebuilding year, with the graduation of first-team honoree Brady Schipper and the five other players who earned all-league honors for the Vikings last year. Senior shortstop Kaden Milbauer and senior outfielder Connor Milbauer are the Vikings’ only returning starters.

Big Eight

Janesville Craig, coached by, Victor Herbst, is the favorite in this year’s Big Eight race, after finishing behind Sun Prairie and Middleton last year to snap a three-year run atop the league. The Cougars also aim for what would be a fourth trip to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament in the last five years. There’s talent all around for Craig — especially on the mound, with Air Force Academy recruit Mitchell Woelfle (6-3 last year, 2.70 earned-run average), Milwaukee School of Engineering recruit Micah Overley (6-2, 1.69, .304 batting average) and Tegan Christiansen (1-1, 1.71 ERA). And then there’s top returning hitter Dan Blomgren (.365, nine extra-base hits, 16 RBIs), who will play next year at Michigan. Also back are Clark Schmaling (.310, 17 RBIs) and Tressin Kussmaul (.308, 18 RBIs).

Middleton has a new head coach in Brent Jorgensen, replacing 16-year veteran Tom Schmitt. Also gone are eight starters from last year’s Big Eight Conference co-champions. The only returning starter is honorable mention all-Big Eight performer Cooper Holewinski, an Edgewood College retruit who hit .294 with 19 RBIs and scored 17 runs last year. Also back are utility player Adam Casali, a junior who hit .368 last year, senior infielder Dylan Carrington, senior first baseman/designated hitter Connor Smith and senior catcher/infielder Remington Lockwood.

Sun Prairie enters the season on the outside — not chosen as the favorite in the Big Eight Conference race, and outside of the Top Ten (at No. 12) in the preseason rankings. Only two starters are back, and eight regulars were lost from last year’s 25-4 Big Eight co-champions, including six who earned all-conference mention. Sophomore Liam Moreno earned all-Badger honorable mention last year, hitting .296 with 12 RBIs and two home runs. Moreno will move to the outfield this spring. Starting shortstop Robbie Knorr also returns. Leading the pitching staff should be junior Carson Fluno (also an infielder), senior Logan Lange (22 strikeouts in 19-1/3 innings) and junior Alec Schmitz.

Madison Memorial expects to mount a challenge in the Big Eight this year, led by first-team all-Big Eight player Jack Krumbach, the team’s offensive leader in several categories last year, including stolen bases. He will play at Xavier next year. The Spartans went 7-11 in the league last year.

Madison La Follette, under 10th-year coach Nate Verhage, hopes to bounce back after going 0-22 (0-18 Big Eight) last year. “La Follette is in full rebuilding mode,” Verhage said, with an all-new staff of assistant coaches. “There are a lot of experienced Lancer players, but not a lot of success over the last two years. This group must first learn to compete to answer the challenges of the Big Eight Conference,” Verhage said. Back for his third year as a starter is senior infielder/pitcher Josh Endicott. Returning to the team this year were Jaden Nix and Ben Probst.

Madison West welcomes back standout catcher Drake Baldwin, a second-team all-Big Eight pick last year. The Regents went 8-10 in the league last year

Verona coach Brad D’Orazio is in rebuilding mode this year, after the Wildcats went 11-7 in the Big Eight last year. But the rebuilding job might be a quick one, as the Wildcats return of senior left-handed pitcher Reagan Klawiter, an Illinois State recruit who had a 2.31 ERA and 44 strikeouts with a 3-4 record last year. Other returning starters are senior outfielders Sam Pederson and Tyler McWilliams, who will move from left to center field, sophomore infielder Ryan Taylor (.300) and senior designated hitter Brooks Brazeau. Senior pitcher Connor Grossnickle (1.22 ERA) earned all-Big Eight honorable mention last year.

Madison East expects the return of senior outfielder Adrian Montilva, a second-team all-conference outfielder last year. Senior Carson Tomony and junior infielder earned honorable mention Big Eight honors last year. East finished 3-15 in league play last year, taking ninth place.

Janesville Parker, 12-6 in the league last year, does not return any players who earned all-Big Eight mention last year.

Beloit Memorial (5-12 in the conference last year) expects the return of senior catcher Jaden Dixon, an all-Big Eight honorable mention pick last year.

Capitol North

Columbus coach Bob Jansen plans to step down from the program after this, his 25th season. He took a 270-230 career record into his final year, and his Cardinals are the defending Capitol North champs. Jansen thinks his team can challenge for another title this year, in a tightly packed league that also includes Lakeside Lutheran, Lodi and Lake Mills at the top. Among the returnees are senior shortstop Trent Casper, a .500 hitter and first-team all-conference pick last year; junior catcher Joe Morris (.258 batting average), a second-team all-league play; junior left fielder Kendal Minick, a second-team pick; and sophomore pitcher Trace Kirchberg (1-1 record), a second-team pick as a utility player.

Lake Mills returns six starters, led by first-team all-Capitol North infielder Spencer Hans and second-team all-league pitcher Nick Carpenter. But the rest of the pitching staff is thin, giving coach Justin Annen something to focus on during the early season.

Lakeside Lutheran coach Phillips Dretske returns for his second season and returns first-team All-Capitol North player Alex Ryan, a junior (.420 batting average, 4-1 pitching record).

Watertown Luther Prep had an uncharacteristically tough time last year, going 5-13, but returns experienced pitchers Jackson Lindermann and Micah Larsen this spring.

Lodi struggled last year, going 4-6 in the league after a run that saw the Blue Devils win five straight Capitol North titles, the last in 2016. Second-team all-Capitol North pitcher Slater Fitzgerald returns.

Capitol South

Wisconsin Heights earned a repeat Capitol South Conference title last year, and returns first-team all-league catcher Payton Flamme, and second-team all-conference infielder Ethan Cribbs. Both are seniors. Also back is junior utility player Clay Caminiti, an honorable mention all-league pick.The rest of the pitching staff is young and unproven, but league coaches see Heights as the team to beat again in the league race.

Marshall, last year’s Capitol South runner-up under coach Shane Murphy, returns first-team all-Capitol South pitcher Tyler Chadwick, junior second-team outfielder Dylan Horstmeyer and senior honorable mention catcher Josh Wehking.

New Glarus finished third in the conference last spring, but suffered heavy graduation losses, including all of the Glarner Knights’ top pitchers. The top player is catcher Connor Siegenthaler (.342 batting average last year), a second-team all-Capitol South pick. Sophomore outfielder Cooper Dreyfus earned honorable mention all-conference honors last year.

Belleville returns the conference’s top outfield corps, including all-league second-team picks Jaydon Winkers and Jackson Richter (both seniors) and senior honorable-mention pick Dylan Gratz. Also back is senior infielder Austin Fahey, an honorable mention pick last year.

Cambridge struggled to a 3-14 record last year, but returns a slew of experienced players, led by senior infielder Denver Evans, an all-Capitol South first-team pick last year. Also back is Payton Orlando-Baldauf, a senior utility player who earned second-team all-league honors.

Rock Valley

Jefferson coach Greg Fetherston had graduation take a whack at the roster of his 2018 Division 2 state runner-up Eagles. Another blow was struck when Ryan Brost (7-0 pitching record, 0.87 earned-run average) was lost for the season due to an injury. Still, the culture of excellence and strong youth programs should have the Eagles in contention for what would be an eighth consecutive Rock Valley Conference title. “(To) compete for a conference championship, juniors need to step up,” Fetherston said. Senior left fielder Nathan Hebbe earned first-team all-Rock Valley honors last year. Junior Reese Fetherston is back after starting at shortstop last year. Top pitchers will be senior Sam Cincotta and juniors Jared Vogel and Fetherston.

McFarland coach John Feldner hopes to ride its sharp starting pitching and defense to a successful year in the Rock Valley. Junior Xavier Schreiber was 6-0 as a starter last year, and Feldner expects him to become one of the conference’s best pitchers. Closer Austin Miller, a junior, had a 0.97 ERA and plans to move up into the No. 2 starter spot this year.

Edgerton has a strong group of returning players from last year’s team, which lost to Jefferson in a sectional final. The Crimson Tide already has split two games with seven-time conference champion Jefferson. Skyler Gullickson and Ben Wileman will lead the pitching crew, and senior Jaden Johnson was a first-team all-conference pick at catcher last year. Mason Simmons, an honorable mention all-league pick last year, homered in the victory over Jefferson.

Evansville lost two early games to conference challenger Beloit Turner after an opening 9-1 win over New Glarus. Four all-conference honorees were lost to graduation, but the Blue Devils return junior Carson Hill, an all-league honorable mention pick last year.

Southwest Wisconsin

Dodgeville coach Pat Reilly, in the seventh year of his second run atop the program, has seen consistent improvement over the past few years and is seen as a top challenger to Southwest Wisconsin Conference favorite Prairie du Chien. Starting shortstop/pitcher Junior Larson did not come out this year, but senior pitcher/first baseman Brandon Molldrem returns, along with sophomore catcher Anthony Vivian, senior second baseman Josh Gorgen (.360 batting average, second-team all-SWC), and senior outfielders J.J. Thompson and Mike Mikruit.

River Valley has a new coach in Mitch Heinemeyer, as former major-league pitcher Bob Wickman stepped down after last season. The top pitcher will be senior Brock Mahoney, an all-league second-team pitch as a utility player last year. Junior infield Will Jewell is expected to return after earning second-team all-league honors. Also expected back is junior Zach Paulus, an honorable mention all-conference pick.

Trailways South/West

Johnson Creek coach Mark Blakeley’s team qualified for the Division 4 state semifinals last year, the team’s first state trip since 2012. And this year, eight starters return — including a deep pitching crew. The leader “on and off the field,” according to Blakeley, is junior shortstop/pitcher Justin Swanson. He hit .484 last year with 23 RBIs, and went 5-1 on the mound with a 1.80 earned-run average and 50 strikeouts. Senior second baseman Bryce Henningson (.385, 28 RBIs) will be asked to play multiple positions this year. The center fielder will be senior Kaleb Hartwig (.337, 14 RBIs; 2-2, 4.10 ERA, 38 strikeouts). Senior Lucas Sullivan will play first base and pitch (.333, 20 RBIs, 4-2 record, 3.21 ERA). Shortstop/pitcher Bo Hartwig started every game as a freshman last year.

Deerfield, which won four Trailways South titles between 2012 and 2016, went 8-16 overall last season. The top returnee is senior shortstop Carson Knapp, a four-year letterwinner who earned second-team all-conference honors last year.

Pardeeville has moved from the Trailways North to the Trailways West, now that the league has split into three divisions for baseball. The Bulldogs went 4-13 last year, but returns a deep group of experienced players. Catcher Peter Freye hit .396 as a freshman last year and earned honorable mention all-conference honors.

Around the area

Mineral Point qualified for the Division 3 state semifinals last year, but this year, the influx of all the former WIAA summer programs has pushed the Pointers into Division 4, where they will compete in the talent-packed Johnson Creek sectional. Eight starters return from that state tournament team, including first-team all-SWAL players Liam Stumpf (sophomore, .481, 36 RBIs last year; 4-1 pitching record, 3.07 ERA), Curtis Cox (.378, 14 RBIs; 6-2, 2.45 ERA), Justin Baehler (.368, 28 RBIs) and Grady Gorgen (5-1, 1.58 ERA). Also back are junior Isaac Lindsey (.371) and Grant Bossert (.339).

Wisconsin Dells coach Mike Michalsky begins his 17th year hoping that this year’s deep and experienced team is able to break through and earn the program’s first state tournament berth since 1986. Three all-South Central Conference players return — all named Dylan — including junior pitcher Dylan Nevar, senior Dylan Anchor and senior Dylan Musiedlak. Musiedlak will move to the catcher’s spot this year, and Anchor will help out on the mound last year after playing field positions only last year due to an arm injury. Six other players return from last year’s 16-4 team, including junior infielder Brennen Tofson.

Barneveld returns its five top hitters from last year’s third-place finisher in the Six Rivers East Conference. Coach Lance Schmitz’s Golden Eagles hope to challenge for the championship after winning the conference five times between 2010 and 2014. The Eagles will be chasing three-time defending league champ Pecatonica. Pitchers Trendon Barsness and Isaac Baumgarten, both sophomores, were breakthrough players last year, earning all-conference honorable mention, and infielder Trey Gordon is a four-year starter.=

Key dates

WIAA tournament

Regionals: May 23, 28 and 29.

Sectionals: June 4.

State tournament: June 11-13 at Fox Cities Stadium, Grand Chute.

— Art Kabelowsky

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Wisconsin State Journal prep sports editor Art Kabelowsky has traversed the state to cover sports while working for daily papers in Fort Atkinson, Racine, La Crosse, Milwaukee and Baraboo.