Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 18 Eau Claire North


By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer

The Wisconsin high school season kicks off on March 27th, the first day for regular season games.

Leading up to the opening week of games we will be rolling out team previews of high school teams all across the state and across all classifications, eventually launching our Preseason Power 25.

We will bring you a snapshot of what to expect along with top players and keys to success for that particular team.

Team: Eau Claire North
Preseason Rank: 18
2017 Record: 22-3
Conference: Big Rivers
WIAA Division: 1
Head Coach: Bob Johnson
Playoff Run: State semifinals appearance
2017 Final Rank: 3
Returning Starters: 5
Returning Pitchers: 2

KEY PLAYERS LOST

Tanner Halvorson, LHP (Indian Hills CC)
Zac Stange, 2B (Winona State)

TOP PLAYERS

Name State School Class Pos Commitment
Ryan Venne WI Eau Claire North 2018 3B/RHP Lindenwood (MO)
Jaelin Williams WI Eau Claire North 2018 OF Waubonsee CC 
Noah Hanson WI Eau Claire North
2018 1B/RHP  
Tyler Greenlund WI Eau Claire North 2018 C  
Jack Kron WI Eau Claire North 2018 SS  
Jeffrey Pippinger WI Eau Claire North 2018 INF/OF
Gabe O’Brien WI Eau Claire North
2019 OF  

Newcomer to watch 

We saw junior OF/1B Gabe O’Brien last October and he presented us with an aggressive approach in the box and consistently made hard contact -- he recorded a 91 mph exit velocity from a tee. The Huskies are in need of an additional slugger in their lineup and it’s a little bit of a mystery who from the 2019 class will emerge to become a reliable starter, but O’Brien may represent their best candidate to break out this spring.

Gabe O'Brien (10.22.17)

X-FACTOR

Senior 1B/RHP Noah Hanson was a multi-talented tool for last year’s Huskies squad -- the type of role player they hope emerges from this year’s 2019 class. Hanson was a trustworthy option on the mound and in the batter’s box for North. With a chunk of last year’s gifted team graduated, Hanson will be counted on to build off his solid junior campaign in order to become more of a certified run producer. He started for the Huskies’ state semifinal game and reached base three times, hitting a single and walking twice, and stole a base in demonstration of his versatility.

Hanson hit .298 last spring and was 0-2 on the mound, though his 1.43 ERA paints a much better picture of his ability. He’s slated to take the ball second in the rotation and hit somewhere near the top of the lineup. A big season from him will help take some of the pressure off their two best guys.

OUTLOOK

You wonder if 2017 represented Eau Claire North’s best chance yet at a state championship.

They had a ton of great pieces, including Wisconsin’s player of the year Tanner Halvorsen, and fellow first-teamer Zac Stange. Stange is playing baseball at Winona State these days and Halvorsen’s at Indian Hills Community College, but they were complemented by a strong junior class led by 3B/RHP Ryan Venne (Lindenwood, MO) and OF Jaelin Williams (Waubonsee CC). Venne hit .371 last year even while dealing with some injuries, and Williams hit .438.

The Huskies went 22-3, won their conference for a second straight year, and earned a sectional championship before falling to the eventual Division-1 champs in the state semis, Kimberly, 2-1. They graduated seven seniors at the conclusion of the 2017 season.

Headed into this spring, Venne and Williams are two returning all-conference picks -- Venne was a second-teamer and Williams was a first. The pair is on our radar, too. Venne is the No. 4-ranked third baseman in his state’s class and Williams is the No. 10-ranked outfielder.  They’re far and away the most talented hitters on the Huskies, and they’ll almost be exclusively relied upon offensively until Coach Bob Johnson is able to unlock the right combination of juniors and returning seniors to fill the rest of his lineup. The first baseman, Hanson, is slated for a magnified role, as mentioned above, but he’ll also be flanked in the lineup by returning seniors C Tyler Greenlund, SS Jack Kron, and utilityman Jeffrey Pippenger. Those three scuffled at time offensively as juniors, but any sort of collective improvement they’ve made over the offseason will help facilitate a more balanced -- and dangerous -- lineup with two next-level bats up top.

The injuries Venne battled last season didn’t affect his results much, either in the box or on the mound; he was 4-0 with a 0.83 ERA as a starter. Typically, the Huskies relied on their ace Halvorsen for their biggest games last spring, but as it worked out, Venne was the one who started their state semifinal meeting with the Papermakers. With Halvorsen graduated, Venne is going to be this team’s No. 1. But it’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the rotation forms. Again, Hanson is a sensible pick for No. 2, but it’s a legitimate question where North is going to find its wins on the mound beyond those two.

BOTTOM LINE

The Huskies are coming off a highly successful season with enough senior talent returning with experience playing at varsity for a 22-win team. But seven members of last year’s exhilarating group graduated. Two all-conference members are back and the lineup should be comprised of six seniors on gameday, all of whom have registered innings at this level in the past. It’s unknown, however, who will fill out this staff and the class of 2019 will play a role.

Lots of ifs at North this year, but there’s enough talent on this roster to generate some optimism about the potential of a third straight state berth.

Find more information on the 2018 Huskies below:

+ Full Schedule
+ Team Website
+
 Twitter

Make sure to follow @PBRWisconsin on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the season.

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN