Entering the 2015 prep baseball season, no one had higher expectations for Ryan Boelk than himself.
The Winnebago Lutheran senior wanted to be just about as close to perfect as possible. On his checklist for the year was an undefeated record on the mound, a low earned-run average, Flyway Conference Player of the Year, a Flyway Conference championship and a berth to the state tournament.
Even for a pitcher of Boelk’s quality, hitting every one of those marks is asking a lot, especially when a few of them are predicated on more than just pitching. But three out of five ain’t bad. Not at all.
Boelk wasn’t perfect, but he was as lights-out as it gets for area pitchers en route to numerous accolades, including Flyway POY. Now he’s got another title to add to an outstanding season — 2015 Action Reporter Media All-Area Baseball Player of the Year.
Fond du Lac’s Matt Ryan and Laconia’s Taylor Weisnicht drew consideration for the honor as well. The rest of the all-area first team is composed of Laconia’s Craig Schneider and Keegan Madigan, St. Mary’s Springs’ Jake Baker, Luke Gellings and Noah Boehnlein, Fond du Lac’s Reggie Hernandez and Winnebago Lutheran’s Aaron Muche.
While most would consider Boelk’s season to be nothing short of superb, Winnebago Lutheran’s ace displayed a hint of disappointment about how everything turned out. Boelk compiled an 8-3 record on the mound with a miniscule 1.36 ERA to go with 86 strikeouts and only 29 walks. He was also a force at the plate, batting .286 in the cleanup spot with five doubles, a home run and 14 RBIs.
After finishing as the runner-up for Flyway POY as a junior, Boelk was the presumed favorite for the honor this year and lived up to that promise. The Vikings were also Flyway Conference champions, sharing the title with St. Mary’s Springs. Even with all the accolades, Boelk first mentioned what he didn’t accomplish in 2015. Not to say he wasn’t happy about how he and his teammates played, but it showed the kind of standard he held himself to his senior year.
“I wanted to go undefeated of course, but that wasn’t met — had some rough games,” Boelk said. “I kept a low ERA, which was one of my goals all year. We won conference, so that was good. That was a great achievement. The regionals, sectionals, state — didn’t quite end up the way we wanted, but I’m proud of the way we played. I’m proud of the way everybody handled themselves.”
Boelk, for much of the season, was what everyone expected. The 6-foot-7 flamethrower used a variety of pitches to throw hitters off-balance, singlehandedly keeping an offensively-challenged Winnebago Lutheran squad in many games.
Firing a fastball in the low-to-mid 80s with a slider, curveball and change-up in his arsenal, Boelk could either overpower hitters or make them look foolish with an off-speed pitch. But for him, it was really all about location.
“What made me an effective pitcher was spotting the ball,” Boelk said. “Coach (Mike) Seibel, he’d be calling the pitches, I’d be spotting them. Spotting them well on most days, some of the days not so well. The majority of the time, I was spotting very well. I could also overpower (hitters) sometimes when they were getting used to my breaking balls and my off-speed stuff.”
Seibel talked specifically about how Boelk was able to develop his slider in 2015, a pitch that added yet another facet to his game.
“We worked on the slider all spring,” Seibel said. “He really got good with the slider. On days when he had the slider, fastball and the curve going, Ryan was practically untouchable. Unfortunately there was a lot of nights where he only had two of them going, but in years past when he didn’t have the curve going, all he had was the fastball. Adding that extra pitch to his repertoire, I believe really made his game grow even greater than it was last year.”
In addition to his all-conference and player of the year selections in the Flyway, Boelk was one of only two players in the area, including Fond du Lac’s Matt Ryan, to receive recognition from the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association on its all-district teams. Boelk was an honorable mention on the South Eastern All-District team, breaking onto a squad that included the likes of Arrowhead, Oconomowoc and a bunch of other Milwaukee-area powerhouses.
“There’s a lot of good schools in that district,” he said. “Just to get honorable mention, it doesn’t sound the best, but it definitely feels good. Huge accomplishment.”
One of Boelk’s signature performances in 2015 came in the Vikings’ regular-season finale against St. Mary’s Springs. Winnebago Lutheran won the game 2-1, rallying from a 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning to split the conference title with the Ledgers. Boelk allowed only the one run on five hits with nine strikeouts in guiding the Vikings to one of their preseason goals.
Unfortunately for Boelk and Winnebago Lutheran, that same Springs team came back to get the last laugh in the WIAA playoffs — defeating the Vikings 4-1 in a Division 3 regional semifinal game with Boelk on the mound. That career-ending loss, and how it stopped the Vikings short of advancing to sectionals, let alone state, stung Boelk.
But like any good athlete, he’s using it as motivation. When he heads to Viterbo University in the fall to start his preparations to play on the baseball team, the Springs loss will still add fuel to his fire.
That’s the type of player Boelk is. Even when he’s accomplished so much, he first thinks to where he can improve.
“It’s always going to stick with me,” Boelk said. “Losing to our crosstown rival is always hard, plus it was my last high school game. Hopefully it’s something I can build on. Something that can drive me to go even further.”
Describing him as one of the better players he’s seen come out of the area in the past couple years, Seibel knows Boelk will have a successful college career as well. But more importantly, he mentioned Boelk’s character as a person, something that transcends sports. That’s what he’ll remember, more even than the stats or accolades.
“It would be a shame for everyone just to talk about his baseball,” Seibel said. “Ryan was a great kid. There’s nobody Ryan didn’t get along with. Athletes are great to have, but true good people are even more fun to coach. Ryan was an absolute pleasure to be around. Long after his career is over, the thing he should be proud of is how good of a person he is.”
Sam Oleson: (920) 907-7930, email@example.com or follow on Twitter @sam_olesonFDL
2015 Action Reporter Media All-Area Baseball Team
Ryan Boelk, Senior, Winnebago Lutheran
Taylor Weisnicht, Senior, Laconia
Craig Schneider, Senior, Laconia
Keegan Madigan, Senior, Laconia
Jake Baker, Junior, St. Mary’s Springs
Luke Gellings, Senior, St. Mary’s Springs
Matt Ryan, Senior, Fond du Lac
Aaron Muche, Senior, Winnebago Lutheran
Reggie Hernandez, Soph., Fond du Lac
Noah Boehnlein, Junior, St. Mary’s Springs
Matt Luedtke, Senior, Lomira
Ricky Stoegbauer, Junior, St. Mary’s Springs
Johnny Bovee, Soph., Oakfield
Blaine Evans, Senior, Fond du Lac
Jacob Schellpfeffer, Fresh., Mayville
Joey Ruplinger, Soph., Oakfield
Trevor Smith, Soph., Laconia
Jackson Schroeder, Junior, Winnebago Lutheran
Drew Behling, Soph., Waupun
Peyton Head, Soph., Fond du Lac
Fond du Lac: Dan Behlke, Jack Cole. Laconia: Jack Propson, Adam Rosenau. Lomira: Justin Lammers. Mayville: Nick Bates, Jake Manthey. North Fond du Lac: Tyler Thielke. Oakfield: Parker Dietzel, Jered Strong. St. Mary’s Springs: Bobby Armstrong, Josh Ditter, Brennen Ottery. Winnebago Lutheran: Jordan Buchholz, Zach Rhodes, Austin Wright.