Kiel head baseball coach Brad Mey sees the potential in his team. Now, with roughly half the season in the books, he hopes his young club will begin harnessing that potential on a more consistent basis.
“I feel we are a talented group,” Mey said. “You can see the potential. At times, it stands out a great deal. You can see the bright spots coming through.”
But, as with many teams on the greener side of the spectrum, growing pains are a part of the process.
“Youth is playing against us. We have some older players, but they didn’t get the opportunity to play on the varsity level until this point,” Mey said. “We have a bunch of young, key role-players on our team that are freshmen and sophomores that are now getting a lot of playing time.”
Mey thinks his team’s relative inexperience has been most visible late in ballgames. On Tuesday, the Raiders were clinging to a one-run lead against New Holstein with just three outs remaining, only to see their advantage evaporate and the Huskies leave town with a 7-6 win.
While the wins may not always be there, the fourth-year skipper is quick to point out that his group of young men has made marked progress since the beginning of the season.
“I feel as we’re getting more games underneath our belts, we’re figuring out what we do as a team and who we are. We’re getting our own identity. I think we can compete with some of these top-end teams and give them a run for their money.”
At points this season, Kiel has proven capable of competing with some of the best teams in the area. The Raiders knocked off Ozaukee in decisive fashion 11-3 and nipped Sheboygan Falls 5-4. Both teams are currently in second place in their respective conferences.
The Raiders also proved worthy adversaries for Eastern Wisconsin Conference-leading Plymouth by holding the Panthers, a team that averages over nine runs per contest, to just three runs in a 3-1 loss.
“No team is really blowing us out of the water. We are hanging with them and giving them a fight. They have to earn their victory against us,” Mey said. “I think we have a good competitive edge that we are bringing to the field every day.”
A strong pitching contingent has been the key to remaining competitive for the Raiders. Three pitchers on the staff currently sport an ERA under four, while two other hurlers carry marks under five.
Seven of Kiel’s nine remaining EWC games are against opponents that are currently ahead of them in the standings. Mey sees the tough stretch as an opportunity for his team to build some momentum.
“If we can sneak two, three games out of that, I think the confidence will be right back where it was when we were getting those wins against Falls and Ozaukee.”
Mey has piloted Kiel to the sectional finals in two of the last three seasons. Should everything come together during the latter portion of the campaign, he thinks that this year’s squad may have a postseason run in them.
“I think our team can surprise some of these other teams. If we catch them on a bad day and we’re having a good day… I think we can make a decent run into the playoffs.”
To put it simply, things have not been going as hoped for the Raiders.
“I’d say coaches on down would say we are disappointed with our season, so far,” Two Rivers head coach Bo Perkins said. “We’re improving as the season goes on, but I think overall we’d say that we’re really sort of disappointed with how poorly we’re doing record-wise.”
The Raiders may have the pieces necessary to right the ship, as the roster features seven seniors, including four who received all-conference accolades.
“In summer baseball, if you can have seniors out for your team, you’re definitely at an advantage,” Perkins said. “If you have quality seniors like the seniors that we have on our team, you’re ahead of things.”
Though they currently sit at 3-9 overall and 2-9 in the EWC, the Raiders have shown signs of a team making improvements.
“On a good night, when we’re going on all cylinders, I think we’re a good fielding team,” Perkins said. “Now we’re starting to finally get the fundamentals of hitting down. We’re having better pitch selection and we’re driving balls to the opposite field and going with the pitches.”
For the rest of the season, Two Rivers will have to find a way to live without one key component of its lineup, catcher Nic Schroeder. Schroeder, who currently leads the team in batting average and RBI, is off to boot camp to begin his career in the military.
“We’re going to have a tough time filling his slot,” Perkins said. “I mentioned that tonight in practice and told the guys that they’re going to have to step it up.”
Perkins hopes that his squad can still achieve one of the goals they set for themselves at the beginning of the season.
“Since 1980, there’s only been one winning team in Two Rivers baseball, .500 or better. Our goal is to be .500 or better,” Perkins said. “That’s still attainable. We have to do some work, but that’s definitely attainable.”
History has shown all is not necessarily lost. Last season, an 8-12 Two Rivers squad entered their regional match-up with Oostburg as a No. 12 seed. The Raiders went on to post back-to-back upset wins en route to a regional championship and a berth in the sectional semifinals. Perkins thinks with a strong regular season finish could put his team in a similar position this year.
“We have to get a few more victories so we’re not playing top-seeded teams,” Perkins said. “But, if we’re in the middle of the pack, we can definitely make a regional championship run and deep into the sectionals for sure.”