Wisconsin Lutheran sets sights on NAC Tournament in 2012

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MILWAUKEE – Coming off a season in which they tied the school record in both wins (19) and conference wins (10), the Wisconsin Lutheran College baseball team has high expectations heading into 2012. The Warriors have their sights set on winning over 20 games and qualifying for the six-team Northern Athletics Conference Tournament.

"We have three expectations for this season," says fourth-year head coach Dave Reinemann. "Win 20-plus games, make the conference tournament and be a force to be reckoned with in the conference tournament."

The expectations are set and Reinemann believes his team will need to play with an aggressive style to be able to accomplish those goals this spring. That aggressive style was showcased last year when the Warriors shattered the single season school record for stolen bases with 104.

"We want our guys to respect the game and represent the school well and also to play FAST, which is fearless, aggressive, smart and together," says Reinemann.

For the first time during his tenure, Reinemann feels that his team will be able to have a full pitching staff as he mentioned 18 players who have the ability to toe the rubber if needed this season.

Sophomore Alex Raver (Bartlett, Ill./Bartlett) is expected to lead the rotation this season after earning All-NAC Freshman Team honors a year ago. Raver posted a 4-4 record and a 5.43 ERA while leading the team with 56 strikeouts.

"It's great to have Alex back this season," says Reinemann. "He's gotten better and stronger and should be a top of the rotation guy for us."

Raver isn't the only one who brings back a lot of experience as four other pitchers are back in 2012 who threw at least 25 innings a season ago. Three of those pitchers are expected to play big roles in the staff again this season in Josh Smith (Appleton, Wis./East), Steve Gustafson (West Bend, Wis./Luther Preparatory) and Alex Nikolai (South Milwaukee, Wis./Thomas More).

"Josh is as smart of a pitcher as we have," says Reinemann. "He pitches to his strengths and has the ability to get guys out. We want Steve to solidify our bullpen this year and Alex has a big arm and we like him as a starter."

Another pitcher who returns with experience but Reinemann isn't hoping to count on him this year is sophomore Garrick Day (Elk Mound, Wis./Elk Mound). While Reinemann knows Day has the ability on the mound, he is hoping to have Day as his everyday starting shortstop this season.

Several freshmen should figure into the mix as well as Sam Mattheis (Rosendale, Wis./Laconia), Ian Zahn (Fond du Lac, Wis./Winnebago Lutheran), Joey Mayefski (Larsen, Wis./Winneconne), Scott Rivers (Waukesha, Wis./North), Jordan Kalous (Algonquin, Ill./Dundee Crown) and Jaime Paumen (Glencoe, Minn./Silver-Lake) could all log innings on the mound.

"Sam, Ian and Joey are guys who we could see developing into starting pitchers for us," Reinemann says. "Scott is recovering well from an ACL injury last season, while Jordan and Jaime could help solidify our bullpen."

A handful of others could factor into the staff this season whether as a starter or in the bullpen. Reinemann believes that Andrew Iverson (Janesville, Wis./Craig), Kyle McGill (Yorkville, Ill./Aurora Catholic Central), Jacob Gustafson (West Bend, Wis./Kettle Moraine Lutheran), Scott Kamholtz (Wauwatosa, Wis./West) and Dan Leiberis (Manchester, Conn./Manchester) could benefit the staff in 2012.

Reinemann also mentioned a few players who he anticipates challenging for roles in the field, but could also help on the mound. Included in that group are freshmen Brandon Mantz (West Bend, Wis./Kettle Moraine Lutheran) and Joey Hodkiewicz (Burlington, Wis./Burlington).

Another position in which the Warriors feature plenty of depth is behind the plate as six players could see time as the team's backstop this season.

"It is a spot where we are blessed to have six guys who can play that position," says Reinemann.

No matter how the catcher position is split up, one player who figures to be in the mix all season long is junior Tyler Schoen (Marion, Wis./Marion). Schoen played in 38 games for Wisconsin Lutheran last season, batting .327 and driving in 35 runs.

"One player definitely in the mix is Tyler Schoen," says Reinemann. "It would take a yeoman's effort to replace him as he brings good leadership back there."

While Schoen enters the season as the favorite to see a lot of time with the schedule shaped the way it is, Reinemann anticipates at least two players seeing significant action. Competing for the next spot are a trio of freshmen in George Koceja (Largo, Fla./Largo), Korben Biersack (Greenfield, Wis./Greenfield) and Brett Youngbeck (Brown Deer, Wis./Brown Deer).

"George, Korben and Brett are all good, young catchers," Reinemann says. "They bring different talents and strengths to the position."

Two other players in David Sell (Manawa, Wis./Manawa) and Zach Sager (Crete, Ill./Illinois Lutheran) should bring quality depth to the position.

Competition is something Reinemann feels he will have at each position, but in the infield a couple returning starters are the early favorites to retain their starting jobs this season.

Junior Doug Martin (West Bend, Wis./Kettle Moraine Lutheran) and Day are the early favorites at first base and shortstop. Martin started 32 games last season and drove in 17 runs, while also recording a .985 fielding percentage. Day hit .298 in 38 starts and led the team with 35 runs scored.

"Doug is a very good defensive first basemen and a good athlete," says Reinemann. "Garrick is a guy who will help solidify our infield defense."

Reinemann mentions sophomore Taylor Meyer (Sussex, Wis./Hamilton) and freshman Jacob Redman (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) as players who could see time at first base as well as in the designated hitter position. Josh Stanisch (Grafton, Wis./Living Word Lutheran) and Kamholtz will also provide depth at first base.

"Taylor and Jacob are both good hitters, guys we could plug into the designated hitter spot," Reinemann says.

Second and third base are two positions that are wide open heading into the start of the season as several players are vying for a starting spot.

"Second base and third base are two positions that are open now and guys are going to be battling out for them," says Reinemann.

Several players are mentioned to be competing at both spots as Zahn and Mantz will be in the fold all season long. Mattheis is a player Reinemann mentioned at second base, while Zack Skog (Hampshire, Ill./Hampshire) will provide some depth at second base. Hodkiewicz and Redman were also stated in the battle at the hot corner.

Several players figure to be in the mix for outfield positions this season with Cody Nevils (Boca Raton, Fla./West Boca Raton) returning and Sam Braaten (Appleton, Wis./East) coming back to the program following a season off.

Nevils started 38 games last season and swiped 11 bases while hitting .266. Braaten started 29 games two seasons ago and batted .306 with 14 runs scored.

"Cody had a decent freshman season and is expecting better things from himself this year," says Reinemann. "It's great to have Sam back both in the lineup and in the outfield."

Three freshman will also be right in the mix for outfield spots as Reinemann mentions Connor Vredeveld (Waterloo, Wis./Lakeside Lutheran), Matt Gowin (Cudahy, Wis./Cudahy) and Youngbeck to all compete for time in the outfield. Evan Teske (Crete, Ill./Illinois Lutheran), Sell and Sager should also add depth at the positions.

The quality of depth that the Warriors have at each position is something Reinemann is very excited about entering the season. A full pitching staff should benefit the Warriors and having quality players who can fill in all over the field is something Reinemann is excited about in 2012.

"We are excited to have this type of pitching staff with legitimately six starting pitchers and a bullpen," says Reinemann. "Our large roster should add depth and competition at all positions."

The quality pitching staff and depth of the 2012 Wisconsin Lutheran College baseball team is one that will hopefully help the Warriors top 20 wins and qualify for the six-team NAC Tournament. 

Wisconsin Lutheran opens its 2012 season March 12 at the Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic in Fort Myers, Fla. Conference play begins March 31 against Marian at Neumann Family Field and concludes May 5 at Maranatha. The NAC Tournament is set for May 11-13 hosted by Marian in Fond du Lac, Wis. The winner of the six-team, double-elimination conference tournament becomes the league's automatic qualifier to the 2012 NCAA Division III Baseball Championship Tournament.