Menomonee Falls - The bigger picture of state glory was in a galaxy far, far away when the season began for the Menomonee Falls baseball team this summer.
The idea of a Greater Metro Conference title was also just a tiny blip on the view screen of a powerful telescope.
Just too much rebuilding to do.
Although the idea of state glory didn't quite pan out for Falls, there was quite a lot of GMC success, enough to claim the league's regular season championship and an excellent 27-5 overall finish.
"We only had two full-time starters back (shortstop Brett Krause and outfielder Joel Zyhowski) and we had a couple of others like Troy Kenkel and Jimmy Kolz who also contributed some, but that was about it," Indians coach Pat Hansen said. "So it was hard to anticipate a 27-5 season like this. Even with all we have back after this year, it's still hard to anticipate that kind of season.
"But I knew what we had coming up in the junior class and what they bring to the table, and our seniors always seem to step up."
He pointed to people like Kenkel, who was a starting pitcher last year, but became a leading member of the staff this summer and went from being hit for, to becoming a designated hitter for the Indians. Hansen was also pleased with the great progress that senior catcher Ryan Bowe showed.
"We really got a lot out of him," Hansen said.
As well as from senior reliever Paul Fitzgerald. He had been a junior on the junior varsity last season, but in his first try on varsity, threw 23-plus innings of scoreless relief picking up a win and seven saves.
Zyhowski had a great season in center field, Hansen said, hitting .459 (including an astounding .531 with runners in scoring position) and earning first-team All-Greater Metro Conference and WBCA first-team all-state honors. Junior shortstop/pitcher Brett Krause did the same on the infield, after a .383 season that included a team-high 40 RBIs (he hit .377 with runners in scoring position).
This team did not lack confidence.
"It didn't take us long to figure out that we would be a pretty good team," Krause said.
The newcomer juniors were led in spectacular fashion by second baseman Cole Hernikl who hit .364 from his leadoff role and who scored an amazing 52 runs and destroyed a school record with 47 stolen bases. He earned second-team WBCA all-state honors.
"The juniors, like I said, we knew about, but it's still tough making the jump from junior varsity to varsity," Hansen said.
Other top members of that class included pitcher Brendan Paule (seven wins for the summer) and outfielder Justin Johnson (.312 largely off an extremely strong second half of the season).
Hansen found out a lot about his team early on, as in just the fifth game of the season against GMC rival Brookfield Central, Falls trailed by three in the bottom of the seventh with two out and no one on and managed to score four times and pull out the victory.
"That game was a great jump-start," Hansen said.
Multiple winning streaks
That was part of a season-opening eight game winning streak. Later, the Indians had stretches of five and nine victories in a row.
The season ended on a sour note, as the top seeded Indians faltered in the sectional semifinals to Arrowhead.
"But we have nine of those juniors coming back plus a really good sophomore in (pitcher) Tommy Wolf," Hansen said, "and those kids are competitors. Hopefully, they'll be able to use that as motivation."
Whatever the case, when the Indians start camp next May, it will be competitive as usual. Not only will they have those returnees back but also members of ridiculously talented junior varsity group that went 28-2 and a freshmen team that was 21-6. Also the incoming freshmen show great promise.
"It may have been the most successful eighth-grade team we've had in the Junior Indian program," Hansen said. "It's a nice luxury to have. All the kids are used to winning (on those lower levels), by the time they get to me, they're used to winning. It's a great attitude to have. It creates a great, competitive atmosphere."
Seniors included Zyhowski, Kenkel, Bowe, Fitzgerald, Cole Morris and Nick Mandella.
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