Throughout the 2013 baseball season, the Stevens Point Area Senior High baseball team hasn’t relied on one particular M.O. to enjoy success.
SPASH has shown the ability to win games in just about every way imaginable.
There are Eric Zelhofer and Kevin Slezak at the top and Jon Barnes at the bottom of the order their speed as a weapon to beat out infield hits and steal bases in order to get into scoring position.
If the Panthers need to power up and get back into a game or put the game on ice, Mitch Mallek and Sterling King have proven more than capable of sending balls over the fence and into the gaps.
And in those cases when the bats have gone quiet, SPASH has been able to turn to a deep and talented pitching staff that includes Austin Shulfer, Cal Giese, Nick Strigel, Aaron Nickel, King and Alex Lee to silence the opposition.
Put it all together and it’s added up to a 25-4 season and a second straight berth in the WIAA Division 1 State Tournament, scheduled to begin today at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton. The Panthers will meet Kenosha Bradford (22-5) in a state quarterfinal at approximately 3:30 p.m.
“I wouldn’t really pinpoint one thing about this team,” said King, who mans third base when he’s not on the mound. “We know we have to swing the bats well and the pitchers have to get ahead in the count and throw strikes to win every game.”
If pitching is the name of the game over the next three days at Time Warner Cable Field, the Panthers have to like their chances.
Giese, a junior left-handersports a 1.51 earned run average, while striking out 74 in 51innings of work, and Shulfer (2.84 ERA, 57K in 44 1⁄3 innings) give SPASH a dominant top of the rotation.
And the rest of the staff isn’t too shabby either — Nickel boasts a team-low 0.95 ERA — for the Panthers, who enter quarterfinal play in search of their first state championship since 1989.
“Our pitching depth is great. I believe we have two aces (Giese and Shulfer), and four really good pitchers behind them,” SPASH coach Kraig Terpstra said. “We’re blessed with guys who have a lot of talent and work hard to throw strikes. And they believe in their defense.
“We’ve got to win Game 1 to use that depth,” Terpstra added. “I think if we’re lucky enough to make it to Game 3 (the championship game), we have a great chance.”
Very few teams in the Division 1 field come in any hotter than the Panthers.
SPASH has won 19 of its last 20 games, so there is a consensus among the players that they’re playing their best baseball of the season at the right time.
And senior second baseman Matt Dufresne sees no reason why the team needs to change what they’ve been doing now.
“We’ve been playing good baseball now for a while and limiting our mistakes, and our pitchers have to throw strikes like they have been,” Dufresne said. “We need to keep our composure and keep playing the same whether it’s the first inning or seventh inning.”
It sure seems to be working.
In three WIAA tournament games, the Panthers have outscored teams 27-2, including an 11-1 dismantling of Hudson in five innings of the sectional title game.
And while that is a reason for optimism, Slezak, a senior outfielder, says the team understands the status quo might not be good enough at this point in the season.
“We’re playing good, but there is always room for improvement. We can always score more runs and give up less runs,” Slezak said. “We need to take it to another level. These are the best teams and best pitchers we’ve faced this season, so we need to kick it into another gear.”
Nothing has seemed to faze the Panthers throughout the season.
Even when their sectional semifinal game against Eau Claire North was suspended in the top of the fifth inning by rain last Tuesday and moved to Thursday, the players never flinched.
They came back two days later and finished off the Huskies, before making short work of Hudson.
“I give our players credit. They have bought into doing whatever it takes or is needed to be successful at that time versus selfishness,” Terpstra said. “Even with the rain thing at sectionals, they were like it doesn’t matter, just tell us when and who we play.
“I’m not saying this is the greatest team in the world, and I’ve been fortunate to coach a lot of very good teams, but what I really like about this team is how it responds to most situations put in front of them.”