Preble baseball looking for next step
By Rich Palzewic
GREEN BAY – With arguably two of the best players in the state on its roster, the Green Bay Preble baseball team is looking to break through the past this season.
The Hornets, who have represented the Fox River Classic Conference at the WIAA Division 1 State Tournament the last three seasons, are seeking the program’s first state title.
According to the Baseball Wisconsin Yearbook, Preble comes into the season as the No. 1 ranked Division 1 team in the state.
“Last year was very special,” said Preble head coach Andy Conard. “It’s a privilege to be given that ranking and thought of in that light, but our guys know our standards are going to be higher than anybody’s expectations from the outside. We know the game is played on the field, and what you’re ranked in March doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot. We will be playing a lot of good teams.”
After Preble beat Kimberly 3-2 in the 2018 state quarterfinals, it lost a 3-1 heartbreaker to eventual state champ Waunakee in the semifinals to end its season at 21-4.
The Hornets had runners on second and third in the bottom of the 11th with nobody out but ended the game with three consecutive strikeouts at the plate.
“For the most part, we did the things we needed to do in both games of the state tournament against two great opponents,” Conard said. “You can always look back and say this play could have gone either way, but when you are playing against quality teams, your margin for error is a lot smaller.”
It’s not often that teams have two Division 1 recruits on its roster, but that’s what Preble has.
Pitcher Ryan Stefiuk and two-time FRCC player of the year Max Wagner are Vanderbilt and Clemson recruits, respectively.
Both players are juniors and all-state selections.
“You almost get used to it, but you don’t take it for granted,” said Conard about Stefiuk and Wagner. “They’re just kids that fit in so well with their teammates. They make everyone else better without bringing attention to themselves. We have a lot of guys who can play and understand their role – obviously having two kids at that level is a nice luxury to have.”
Stefiuk, a 6-foot-4 lefty who tops the radar gun at about 90 mph, struck out 85 batters in 55.2 innings in 2018.
He allowed only four earned runs all season and had a minuscule 0.50 earned-run average.
Wagner, more known for his bat, was also effective on the mound last year.
In over 50 innings of work, he had an ERA just over 1.00.
He led the Hornets in batting average (.443), slugging percentage (.646), hits (35) and extra-base hits (13).
“It’s definitely nice having two of the best players in the state sitting in the dugout with you,” said senior outfielder Dominic Mariucci. “They are great players but even better teammates.”
Just as Conard said, Mariucci and the rest of his teammates aren’t focusing on the lofty preseason ranking.
“As a team, we have pretty high standards just based on past seasons,” Mariucci added. “Getting that close and not winning gives us extra motivation this year.”
Senior Josh Nicklaus, a St. Norbert College basketball recruit, echoed those same thoughts.
“I don’t have any personal goals,” said Nicklaus. “I want to extend our season farther than last year and win a state championship.”
The Hornets will have to deal with the graduation of pitchers Quinn Williquette and Paul Stefiuk, catcher Casey Roeser and outfielder Collin Dougherty.
Both Roeser and Dougherty were second-team picks in the FRCC last year.
In addition to Stefiuk and Wagner, Conard said seniors Bryce Miller, Nicklaus and Zach Renier and junior Ben Graff will add pitching depth.
The Hornets’ home field, Joannes Park, was under water a few weeks ago with the spring melt and the flooding of the East River.
“The water was at least halfway up the outfield wall,” added Conard. “The dugouts were completely flooded. Our city guys do a great job – they were pumping water off the field and doing everything they could. Mother Nature has helped dry things out lately.”
As the waters receded, numerous small fish could be seen swimming in the remnants of what was left of the flooding.
“Evidently, there is some good fishing out there,” laughed Conard. “Looking at Joannes now, you’d never know that a few weeks ago it was completely under water.”
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Green Bay Preble High School baseball roster
Seniors: Zach Renier, Bryce Miller, Dominic Mariucci, Josh Nicklaus, Trevor Olmsted, Dylan Boucher, Anthony Veriha, Logan Dorner, Ryan Davidson and Zack Chandler.
Juniors: Ryan Stefiuk, Max Wagner, Ben Graff, Liam Jones, Kyle Zorn and Hunter Petska.
Sophomore: Connor Shefchik.
Freshman: Jake Petasek.