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Somerset baseball starts season with 3-0

Somerset pitcher Zac Waalen fires to first base on a pickoff attempt during the Spartans’ win over Altoona on Friday. 1 / 2
Somerset first baseman Tyler Lueck leaps high to try to catch a foul ball at the front of the new home dugout at the Somerset varsity baseball field. 2 / 2

Winning its first three games might not signal that it’s going to be a banner season for the Somerset baseball team, but it does indicate the Spartans could step up and be contenders.

The Spartans opened their season last Tuesday, playing a pair of games at the Woodland baseball complex in Mauston. The Spartans won both of the games played on artificial turf, beating Unity 6-3 and Amery 6-0. The win over Amery was a Middle Border Conference game.

The third win of the week came on Friday when the Spartans made their home debut against Altoona, tipping the Railroaders, 4-2.

The Spartans are playing this season under head coach John Ball, who was a Hall of Fame coach in New Richmond before being asked to join the Spartans as an assistant coach several years ago.

The common thread in the three Spartan victories was strong starting pitching. Michael Piletich drew the starting assignment against Unity, his first varsity start. He worked five innings, allowing one run on four hits. He didn’t walk a batter and he struck out four.

“Mike threw well. He gives us another starter we can look at,” Ball said.

The two pitchers expected to serve as the aces in the Spartan rotation got the call in the next two games. Junior Tyler Lueck started the conference game against Amery and he built on the success he saw as a sophomore. Lueck allowed one hit in six innings, striking out 12 batters.

Senior Zac Waalen took the mound against Altoona on Friday. Waalen allowed two runs in five innings before the bullpen finished off the win.

Ball said he’s looking for strong fundamentals from the Spartans, expecting the team to make all the needed plays on defense. He leaves the pitching in the hands of longtime Somerset pitching coach Mike Tetzlaff, knowing Tetzlaff’s track record for turning out top pitchers.

Ball said the questions for the team lie in how well the offense can produce. Ball said the team has a good mix of returning players and new additions. Four starters return, including Waalen at shortstop and Lueck at first base, when they’re not pitching. Catcher Jon Sullivan and outfield Austin Wodarz also return.

Andy Peters missed last season due to injury. He will see time in the outfield and is one of the Spartans’ main hurlers out of the bullpen.

Another player who’ll see plenty of time in the outfield is senior Aaron Moore, who is one of several upperclassmen returning to baseball after several seasons away. Moore has been playing centerfield and batting leadoff in the early games, as the coaches try to put his exceptional speed to use. Juniors Brody Penman and Reed Baillargeon are also back in the baseball program and they could work their way into roles this season. They all could be in the mix for outfield time, where Ball said five players could be rotating into the lineup.

Two sophomores are leading candidates to win jobs on the infield. Logan Peterson has shown the ability to play third base, just as Tom Grygienc has shown at second base. Grygienc has shown he can hit, pounding out a pair of doubles in the season opener against Unity.

Moore was the offensive leader against Amery, with a double, triple and two runs driven home. Grygienc also drove home two runs on a pair of singles. The Spartans only had four hits against Altoona, but still managed the win.

The Spartans face a key Middle Border Conference game this Thursday when they host defending MBC champion Ellsworth. The Spartans continue their MBC schedule next Tuesday with a game at Baldwin-Woodville.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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