The worries that Don Williams once had about an unproven Hortonville pitching staff have faded.
That’s because his young pitchers continue to wow him with lights-out production.
Hortonville (13-1, 15-2) has clinched a share of the Bay Conference title and is ranked fifth among Division 1 teams in the Wisconsin High School Baseball Coaches Association poll.
The Polar Bears’ polished pitching has been a major reason for their success.
Hortonville’s pitching staff has compiled a stellar 0.92 ERA. Polar Bear pitchers have allowed just 15 earned runs and 18 overall in 114 innings, with 137 strikeouts and just 28 walks.
Not bad for a pitching staff that had to establish itself following the graduation loss of mound ace and first-team all-conference pitcher Caleb Boushley.
“When you lose your anchor like Caleb, yeah, it’s going to be a big concern,” said Williams, who is in his 34th season coaching the Polar Bears. “I knew we had a talented group. Talent wasn’t a problem, but these kids didn’t have a lot of experience and you never know how kids are going to handle tough situations. They have exceeded my expectations.”
Junior righthander Dan Borek (6-0 overall, 0.58 ERA), senior lefthander Ryley Rosenfeldt (4-0, 1.26) and junior lefty Alex McIntosh (3-1, 0.88) have filled the top three spots in the starting rotation and combined for 116 strikeouts and only 20 walks. Another junior southpaw, Marshall Stutz (0-1, 0.55), and junior righthander Mitch Lillge (2-0, 1.58) have also been effective.
“It’s probably the deepest pitching staff I’ve had here,” said Williams. “I’ve had a lot of top No. 1 guys, but not a staff with third, fourth and fifth guys as good as this. Pitching has carried us.”
Hortonville’s outstanding pitching was at its best this week. On Tuesday, Rosenfeldt did something that no pitcher in program history had ever done. He threw a perfect game in driving the Polar Bears to a 3-0 win over Oconto Falls. Mixing a tricky curveball to match a live fastball, Rosenfeldt fanned 13 of the 21 batters he faced.
Two days later, Borek had a perfect game for five innings before settling for a two-hitter with 12 K’s in an 8-1 Bay win over Luxemburg-Casco.
“Until Tuesday, we had some no-hitters here, but never a perfect game and we’ve almost two or three of them this year,” said Williams. “Alex McIntosh took a perfect game into the seventh inning of our game (on April 30) against Marinette and struck out 15 of the first 18 guys he faced. He ended up with a two-hitter, but that was really a well-pitched game, too.
“Control has been a big thing with our pitchers. In his perfect game, Ryley was getting ahead of the hitters. To me, that’s the key to pitching.”
Williams’ strength as a baseball coach is his ability to develop pitchers. That development starts well before his pitchers are in high school.
“I think everything our pitchers have done this year stems from him teaching us at a young age,” said Borek. “He hosts pitching clinics every year and all our pitchers have gone to them. He really teaches the fundamentals. That’s his thing. He builds a strong base of fundamentals before the season, so it’s just second nature for you when you’re out on the mound.”
Williams’ knack for producing pitchers is a big reason why he has won more games (557) than any active Wisconsin high school baseball coach.
“Don never has a bad team because he always has good pitching,” said Seymour coach Tom Wilson. “He develops pitchers as well as anyone and he’s developed a program where baseball is an important part of the Hortonville athletic program. Every kid in Greenville and Hortonville is playing youth baseball and wants to eventually become part of the Polar Bear experience.”
Williams learned a lot about pitching by simply doing it. He pitched in his prep days in Warren, Ill., and also at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and in the Dairyland League for the former Greenville Stars.
“When I work with pitchers at a younger age, I work on the correct mechanics,” said Williams. “When they get to the high school level, I talk to them a lot about mental toughness. I basically tell all of them they’re going to have to be one of the toughest guys on the team because they’re going to be in some difficult situations.”
Hortonville has given its pitchers plenty of offensive support, with a team batting average of .301. Rosenfeldt leads the Polar Bears with a .401 average, while junior first baseman Conner Dougherty (.388), junior outfielder Connor Hafeman (.380), junior catcher John Boushley (.362) and junior third baseman Jake Diedrich (.311) have also been tough outs.
Hortonville can win the Bay outright with a win Monday at Seymour or at Oconto Falls on Tuesday.
“I can’t complain about a thing because this is a young team,” said Williams. “But even though we’re young, these kids have played a lot of baseball over the years.”
— Tim Froberg; 920-993-1000, ext. 423, or firstname.lastname@example.org; On Twitter @twfroberg