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Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 19 Hortonville


By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer

The WIAA high school baseball season opens on March 26, the opening day for prep baseball in Wisconsin.

Leading up to the opening week of action, we’ll be rolling out team-by-team previews, counting down to our state’s preseason No. 1-ranked program for the 2019 season. We’re combing over all classifications and corners of the state to determine our top-25 ranked teams ahead of what’s sure to be an historic campaign, with the merging of the spring and summer divisions into one single WIAA season.

Perennially, we’ve submitted a Preseason Questionnaire to high school head coaches across the entire state. Their responses have been flooding in and we’re using the detailed insight they’ve provided in our analysis.

Our 2019 preseason coverage continues today.

Team: Hortonville
Preseason Rank: 19
2018 Record: 16-6
Conference: Fox Valley Association
WIAA Division: 1
Head Coach: Greg Yeager
Playoff Run: Sectional Semifinal
2018 Final Rank: 18
Returning Starters: 4
Returning Pitchers: 4

TOP PLAYERS

Name State School Class Pos Commitment

Eli Kramer

WI

Hortonville

2019

OF

Madison JC

Jason Jennerjohn

WI

Hortonville

2019

RHP

Eastern Illinois

Grant Mullins

WI

Hortonville

2019

INF

Wisconsin-Platteville

Hunter Hackbarth

WI

Hortonville

2019

INF


Kyle Stuewer

WI

Hortonville

2019

OF


Duncan Ice

WI

Hortonville

2019

INF


Colton Baumann

WI

Hortonville

2020

LHP


Reed Hafeman

WI

Hortonville

2020

LHP


Jack Dodd

WI

Hortonville

2020

1B



KEY PLAYERS LOST

Connor Roseler, SS
Kole Ellenbecker, OF
Jase Krull, 3B
Lucas Wenzel, OF
Drew Lauterborn, LHP
Justin Bonikowske, LHP

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

We last saw Colton Baumann around this time one year ago, back at 2018’s preseason Fox Cities showcase. There, the lefty was up to 81 mph as a sophomore, with feel for a curveball and changeup. If Baumann’s made any progress, which is fair to expect from a projectable arm like his, then Hortonville has a good problem on its 2019 roster: too many skilled arms. Spreading the innings will be a chore, but one that head coach Greg Yeager is happy to handle.

Baumann didn’t see much time on last year’s regional championship team, but given the pair of lefties the Polar Bears graduated in 2018, he can slide right into this rotation to eat some of the innings lost. He’s ranked within the top 70 in the state’s 2020 class and has a chance to be one of this rotation’s most dependable starters, after its frontline arms.

Colton Baumann (2/17/18)


X-FACTOR

Reed Hafeman appeared at our Fox Cities event last month and sat in the 84-85 mph range with his fastball, complemented by a hard slider. You’ll see it for yourself in the Outlook below, but the Polar Bears are loaded on this staff, and Hafeman and Baumann only make them that much deeper.

The 6-foot-1 southpaw is going to carve a role out somehow. Whether he’ll earn the spot on staff right after Hortonville’s ace, or become a dependable, high-leverage, late-inning arm out of the bullpen, Hafeman is critical to the success of this team. He saw time at first base last spring, too, and could pick up some more at-bats in 2019.

Reed Hafeman (2/24/19)


OUTLOOK

The Polar Bears have had a share of the Fox Valley Association title in consecutive seasons, and won it outright in 2018. It took them a couple of seasons to adjust to what’s historically been a tough conference with two of the state’s heavyweights, Appleton North and Kimberly, but back-to-back conference championships have allowed them to establish themselves as a perennial threat repping the northern half of the state.

And while the past two seasons have been good to Hortonville, the Polar Bears have a squad this year capable of adding more than just a FVA title to their growing trophy case.

Coach Yeager is returning many of the faces that helped make the last two successful springs possible. They’re missing a couple of notable bats from the 2018 edition of the Polar Bears, but starting pitchers Jason Jennerjohn and Mason Thiel are back, and there are more arms on the way expected to be factors on the 2019 roster.

And even still, senior Eli Kramer, a two-time all-state selection, will power the middle of this lineup, helping provide this talented rotation with the run support they need to hold leads and win games over the long haul of the spring season. Kramer is a Madison College commit who hit .419 for the Polar Bears in 2018. He’s among the best left-handed bats in the state’s senior class and he’s the kind of weapon on offense that could energize a lineup alone.

But Kramer won’t have to do it alone.

Grant Mullins, a Wisconsin-Platteville commit, hit .274 as a junior and there’s more in his game than that. He put together a sound round of batting practice in front of our staff last July, demonstrating that he might have found an extra gear, offensively, since the team was bounced in the sectional semis last spring. Hafeman earned plenty of at-bats as a junior last spring, too, but (as mentioned in our X-Factor section) he’s come on as a lefty particularly well in our recent looks.

Don’t forget about fellow seniors Kyle Stuewer, Hunter Hackbarth, and Duncan Ice, either. All three should help the Polar Bears seal some of the cracks on this roster created after its 2018 class graduated.

Joining the starting seniors in the everyday lineup should be a fleet of juniors, all able to efficiently fill out the rest of this everyday lineup. First baseman Jack Dodd is an imposing 6-foot-6 presence in the right-handed batter’s box. He showed our staff some advanced bat strength at a recent Madison event, too. And classmates Colton Schanke and Logan Grossman were identified by Coach Yeager as candidates to pick up some of the pieces left behind by last year’s graduating class.

So, while Hortonville looks a little inexperienced on offense ahead of opening day, the Polar Bears get to pencil in a quality arm game in and out, and most of the pitchers on this team have their own individual arrows as prospects pointed straight up.

A staff like this needs an ace and Jason Jennerjohn will provide exactly that kind of value. The Eastern Illinois-bound right-hander has shown a feel for three in our looks, and has been up to 89 mph in the past – but most regularly sits in the mid-80s. He was 4-1 last spring with a 2.89 ERA, but with his stuff, it’s fair to expect an even stronger 2019 for the competitive and athletic righty.

Flanking Jennerjohn on this rotation should be the aforementioned Hafeman as well as junior right-handers Parker White, Mason Thiel, and our Newcomer to Watch. Both White and Thiel are upside, projection arms who saw time on the mound as sophomores last spring and, thus, should be more accustomed to the pace of varsity play. The lanky righties both worked in the low 80s in 2018 while still figuring out their offspeed repertoire – a developmental step forward will help this Hortonville staff become one of the state’s elite run suppressors.

BOTTOM LINE

Conservatively, this Hortonville staff is three or four talented arms deep. Throw in Baumann’s introduction to the FVA and the on-the-rise Hafeman, and the Polar Bears look like contenders to rack up a ton of wins in 2019 with the help of this staff alone. There are a number of ways this staff could align themselves, after No. 1 Jennerjohn throws anyway, and we’re excited to see how it all shakes out, but a pitching staff like this is enough to lift the Polar Bears into the state tournament conversation.

Hortonville can elevate themselves into an authentic state title contender if the team is able to piece together the right recipe on offense to support this staff properly. With a stifling staff and an efficient, scrappy lineup, the Polar Bears could have the kind of formula it takes to earn a state tournament berth for the first time since winning it all in 1998.

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

Find more information on the 2019 Polar Bears below:

+ Full Schedule
+ Team Website
+ Twitter

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN