Prep Baseball Report

Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 3 Oak Creek

By Maddox Durst
PBR Wisconsin Staff

The Wisconsin high school baseball season kicks off on March 28, opening day for regular season action under WIAA regulations. Over the next week, leading up to opening day, we’ll be publishing our team previews ahead of the 2023 spring season, touching on programs spanning all state classifications, counting down through the official PBR Wisconsin Preseason Power 25 Rankings.

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 team-by-team preseason analysis. We also utilized some of the information published inside the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association's 2023 Yearbook, which is available for purchase here.

Our 2023 preseason coverage continues today.

Team: Oak Creek
Preseason Rank: No. 3
2022 Record: 22-8
Conference: Southeast
WIAA Division: 1
Head Coach: Scott Holler


Evan Calderon
INF Oak Creek 2023 St. Norbert
Max Hennemann
Oak Creek 2023 Heartland CC
William Hyland
Oak Creek 2023 -
Michael Merline
Oak Creek
2023 Milwaukee Area Tech JC
Owen Sullivan
Oak Creek
2023 Western Illinois
Nathan Hanel
Oak Creek
2024 -
Payten Jibben
Oak Creek
2024 -
Cade Palkowski
OF Oak Creek
2024 North Carolina
Brayden Rohde
Oak Creek
2024 -
CJ Trask
Oak Creek
2024 -
Ryan Buchta
RHP Oak Creek
2025 -
Nathan Schopf
OF Oak Creek
2025 -


+ RHP Luke Klekamp (2022; St. Johns River State)
+ C Ryan Santi (2022; Madison JC)


Cade Palkowski (7/27/22)

+ OF Cade Palkowski (2024; North Carolina commit): Coming off of one of the best individual summers in 2022, Palkowski raised his stock immensely as a member of Team Wisconsin at the PBR Future Games, and eventually committed to ACC powerhouse North Carolina in the winter. At a compact 5-foot-11, 190 pound outfielder, Palkowski’s athleticism is always on full display on the baseball field. The lefty ran a 6.83 60-yard dash, and threw 87 mph from the outfield during his time in the Peach State this past summer. At the plate, possibly where he is most dangerous, Palkowski’s slight load and pure strength allow him to consistently drive the baseball to the gaps, reaching exit velocities in the mid-90s at our events, previously. Palkowski is an all-around athlete, who showed well in his sophomore season as Oak Creek’s center fielder, as he looks to do the same in 2023.


Nathan Schopf (2/18/23)

+ OF Nathan Schopf (2025): Entered his freshman season on the varsity playing field for Oak Creek, manning a corner outfield position for the majority of the season. Hit .311 and returns as a 2nd-Team All-Conference outfielder in the Southeast Conference. Schopf, featuring a physical 6-foot-1, 205 body, brings major offensive power to an already potent Knights lineup, reaching a max exit velocity of 99 mph at the West Milwaukee Preseason ID this past February. A leg kick, paired with a wide base setup and firm swing allows Schopf to barrel the baseball and consistently be on time, as he’s illustrated to our staff over his brief prep career. The sophomore will once again be a key piece to the Oak Creek team in his second year of high school baseball. 


Long-time head coach Scott Holler and Oak Creek once again put together a quality, winning season in 2022. The Knights did so, as a youthful group, all of which return in 2023. This barrage of players already has a regional championship under their belt from 2022, as they look to go beyond that in the upcoming spring season.

There aren’t too many holes within the Oak Creek troupe, which includes a high-octane offense. Combining with Palkowski at the top of the order will be INF C.J. Trask (2024), another junior who had ample playing time as an underclassman for the Knights, and succeeded in his role. Trask returns after hitting .375 last season, one of the highest batting averages on the team. 

C.J. Trask (9/24/22)

INF Evan Calderon (2023; St. Norbert College) is another name to know on this roster, seeing time at second base last spring, and returning plenty of value at the ‘keystone’. He’s a steady contributor in all aspects, and his competitive, hard-nosed attitude adds another dynamic to the Oak Creek clubhouse, too. Another name that you’ll see on the dirt is INF Max Hennemann (2023; Heartland CC), though his athleticism and versatility may lead to a slot in the outfield as well, where we’ve seen him have success in the past. He came away from the PBR Future Games in 2021 as one of Team Wisconsin’s biggest winners, swinging a quick and athletic left-handed bat with a certain fluidity to his game, from top to bottom. INF Matthew Risser (2023; Bryant & Stratton, WI) deepens this roster more, adding yet another experienced senior bat to the mix. Handling the arms on this staff will be C Nathan Hanel (2024), who caught as a sophomore last spring and he's earned a reputation as one of the best defensive catchers in the area, regardless of class. He's a strong 6-foot-2 prospect and he's also a break-out candidate to make a leap offensively from the right-handed batter's box, to Oak Creek's gain.

Two more returners are set to roam the outfield grass for the Knights: OF/RHP Payten Jibben (2024) and OF Owen Sullivan (2023; Western Illinois). Both saw plenty of playing time last year, and they both hit over .300, setting themselves up nicely as continued, and reliable, offensive pieces in 2023.

Coming off of an unblemished record of 4-0 last spring as an arm, Jibben figures to be the headliner of this staff. We recently saw the uncommitted junior come away from the Milwaukee Preseason ID as a winner, drawing high praise from our scouts after an impressive ‘pen: 

From 3/28/23: “... Built at a ultra-athletic 6-foot-3, 210-pounds, Jibben has a simple, repeatable delivery that he uses to drive the ball downhill to spots. During his ‘pen, Jibben’s fastball sat in the 88-89 mph range with his highest being 89.8 mph, and this is a pitch that plays with some major ride and carry through the zone, roughly 18.2’ of induced vertical break on average. He also showed the utmost feel for a curveball and changeup. The curveball plays with sharp 11/5 action and it was thrown all around the zone. Jibben’s changeup is thrown with intent and features late, hard fade and depth, and averaged more than 18’ of horizontal movement, too. Offensively, Jibben recorded exit velocities up to 93.1 mph, utilizing strong quick hands that averaged a bat speed of 72.2 mph, too... ”

In addition to Jibben, RHP William Hyland (2023) and RHP Ryan Buchta (2025) are two starters who each got some time on the mound last season, especially Hyland. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound uncommitted senior finished 4-2 and comes back as one of the top arms for the Knights. On the other hand, Buchta will look to fill the starting role of graduated RHP Luke Klekamp (2022; St. Johns River State), who operated as a true WIAA ace last spring. Buchta has real potential to one day fill a similar kind of role, reaching 84 mph with his fastball at the Milwaukee Preseason ID, throwing a quality curveball-changeup mix off it. He might not replicate the stats of Klekamp as a sophomore, but he can be a reliable staff member as soon as this spring. 

There's also RHP Michael Merline (2023; Milwaukee Area Tech JC) and RHP Brayden Rohde (2024) here as potential impact arms. Merline's a huge, strong 6-foot-4, 210-pound prospect who wields a power fastball that misses bats inside the zone all on its own, often in the upper-80s backed by effective peripheral metrics. Rohde, we just saw as a staff, for the first time at the Milwaukee ID where he was up to 86 mph, and he also spins a slider at a high rate. The two reinforce a deep pitching staff that should keep Oak Creek in a lot of its ballgames this spring.


Seven returners are entering their third straight season of varsity baseball for Oak Creek, as they bring back an experienced crew who is looking to take the next step towards making a run at the Division 1 state championship in June. 

As mentioned previously in both the Kenosha Tremper and Franklin previews, the Knights will have to go through the rigorous Southeast Conference, which is shaping up to be one of the most competitive groups of teams in the state yet again. Oak Creek battle alongside the future collegiate baseball players spread across the diamond, making them one of the top teams in the state heading into the 2023 season.

Make sure to follow @PBRWisconsin on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the 2023 season.

Find more information on the 2023 Knights below:

+ Team Website
+ Team Schedule
+ Team Twitter