Take a look in the McFarland baseball team’s dugout and you’ll see a guy who has pretty much seen it all.
After all, John Feldner has been the Spartans’ coach for the past 44 seasons — setting lineups, visiting the mound, calling bunts and steals in 855 games, dating back to 1979.
And, up until now, consoling his team after a season-ending loss in WIAA regional or sectional play.
But at about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feldner and his 20-9 Spartans will be in a place they have never been before: The dugout at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute, taking on Union Grove (26-3) in a semifinal of the WIAA Division 2 state baseball tournament.
A nine-inning, 3-2 victory over Madison Edgewood last Tuesday gave McFarland the first state berth in school history. It’s an achievement even Feldner did not necessarily see coming back in March, especially after some early adversity.
“You know, sometimes I have to pinch myself, saying we’re really going to state. It’s amazing,” Feldner said.
As practice started, the coach said he was expecting the status quo — another good team, one with a chance to challenge in the always-tough Rock Valley Conference.
“We went into the season thinking we had two really quality pitchers (juniors Xavier Schreiber and Austin Miller) that were going to lead us,” Feldner said. “We thought we’d be able to compete for conference behind those two. … Unfortunately, both ended up with arm problems.”
Miller has pitched in only eight games and Schreiber in only four. Nine other players have seen action on the mound, but they have worked together to produce a team earned-run average of 2.87.
“There’s been overcoming some adversity, and as we’ve been doing that, we’ve been getting better,” Feldner said.
While Schreiber and Miller haven’t pitched much, they certainly have been contributing at the plate. Schreiber ranks second on the team with a .444 batting average and 18 runs batted in, and Miller is hitting .391 with a team-best 27 RBIs.
Senior Reece Samuel also has played a major role in the team’s success, leading the team with a .444 batting average and ranking second with 23 RBIs. He credits his own success — and his team’s — to the chemistry built over the course of the season.
“The team this year has all around better leaders,” Samuel said. “We gel very well. That definitely helps.”
Senior Carson Wienke (.343, 30 runs scored) and junior Cam Schaaf (.291, 15 RBIs) have been productive in the top two spots of the McFarland lineup.
Wienke credits his team’s competitiveness, bred through the battles of the Rock Valley Conference. “We go into games wanting to win,” he said.
The Spartans were seeded second in their part of the Baraboo sectional, beating Stoughton and Evansville before matching up with Rock Valley Conference champion and state sixth-ranked Beloit Turner in a regional final. The result was a 1-0 upset, as junior pitcher J.T. Pimental and Miller combined to throw a four-hitter and Schreiber reached on an infield single, moved up on a wild pitch and a sacrifice bunt, and scored on an error in the sixth inning.
Against Edgewood in the sectional final, Wienke singled with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Schaaf walked and Wienke scored on an error on a grounder by Schreiber.
The McFarland community has taken notice of the Spartans’ success.
“Everyone is super excited, I’ve been congratulated a bunch, everyone is super happy,” Samuel said.
“The school has been very supportive and it’s very big in the community,” Feldner said.
The Spartans’ opponent on Wednesday, Union Grove, is ranked fifth and beat fourth-ranked Whitefish Bay to earn its state berth.
“Union Grove is a really good team, a very good team, well-coached team,” Feldner said. “They have their dogs going into this game. We’ll have to play very well.”