Young players crucial to Panthers’ hopes

by Greg Ceilley
of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – Head coach Butch Cain is very upbeat about his young Plymouth baseball team which has only two seniors and returns just five letter winners from last season.

“We feel that we will have a nice team for the 2016 baseball season by establishing our team chemistry and cohesiveness across all four grade levels,” said Cain who is in his 13th season at the helm.

“We will be relatively inexperienced at the varsity level but will look to build toward consistent execution in all facets of the game. Attention to detail and making adjustments to the varsity level of competition on a daily basis will also be keys to our success.”

The Panthers lost 10 seniors off the 2015 squad which advanced to the state tournament for the second straight year, won the Eastern Wisconsin Conference title for the third consecutive season and finished 23-7 overall. PHS, which graduated two all-staters in Zac Cain (first team) and Tyler Willeford (honorable mention), will depend on a lot of underclassmen this season.

The returning starters are juniors Jake Steinhardt and Derek Schweiger. Steinhardt and Schweiger will head the pitching staff and are coming off fine seasons on the mound last year. Steinhardt will also play infield and outfield. Schweiger also plays first base.

Schweiger and Steinhardt posted 5-1 and 3-1 records, respectfully, last season. Schweiger was third on the team in ERA with 3.23. Steinhardt ranked fourth in RBIs with 19 and fifth in batting average at .281.

The letter winners back are Schweiger, Steinhardt, senior Austin Struve and sophomores Holden Reilly and Taylor Struve. Schweiger and Steinhardt are the team’s only juniors.

“Our returning starters are Jake Steinhardt and Derek Schweiger. We will lean on them to help our younger guys get acclimated while taking on a leadership role, both on and off the field,” said coach Cain.

“We look for our seniors, Austin Struve and Zac Kaiser, to help provide leadership and consistent play for us. Taylor Struve and Holden Reilly will be called upon for consistent play after learning about our team expectations last season.”

Coach Cain is counting on younger players to also make key contributions.

“Sophomores Sam Miller, Joey Osieczanek, Isaac Fintak, Ben Picard and Keegan McMullen will be asked to fill a variety of roles for us. Freshmen Will Birkholz, Joe Steinhardt, Michael Troka, Matt Pohl and Jack Nytes will get opportunities to showcase their skills with the varsity as well,” said Cain.

The coach pointed out the team’s strengths.

“We run pretty well and have a versatile group of young men in the program again this season. We will depend on a sound defense that will allow our pitchers to keep their pitch count down while holding the opposition to relatively low run totals,” he said.

“We have a large number of guys who can and will give us quality innings on the mound, and our hitters will continue to develop as we get deeper into the season.

“Our lineup will be adjusted as needed to get our hottest players time. Many of our guys will play multiple positions from game to game. We are young and will be looking for a number of guys to earn quality playing time,” said the veteran coach.

The Panthers will play in the newly formed Big East Baseball Conference this season. The Big East is a combination of Eastern Wisconsin Conference and Central Lakeshore Conference teams, with champions to be decided in the small- and large-school divisions. PHS is a large-school division member along with Kiel, New Holstein and Sheboygan Falls.

“New Holstein, Sheboygan Falls, Kiel and Plymouth should all have a chance to contend for the Big East large-school championship. Random Lake, Howards Grove and Cedar Grove-Belgium look to have the most experience returning in the small-school race,” said the coach.

“The new conference will reestablish some old county rivalries and should bring more fan interest/ attendance to the contests.”

The coach pointed out his main goals for the season.

“As always we will look to improve our skills and compete to the best of our ability each and every day,” he said.

“We will again put great pride into our ability to play the season one pitch at a time, play in the moment and not get too far ahead of ourselves.

“We look to come together as a unit throughout the season with a belief that our cohesiveness and sincere trust in our teammates can help us accomplish some exciting results throughout the campaign.

“By taking care of the things we can control and executing our game plan we will strive to have another shot at competing for a conference championship, then peek at the right time in order to be ready for a postseason run,” added Cain.

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