At 8 a.m. Tuesday, members of the Burlington High School baseball team will already have wiped the sleep from their eyes. They will be focused on the enormous task at hand and they will walk on to the Fox Cities Stadium Field in Grand Chute with absolute confidence at that early hour.
Sure, they will be facing powerful Green Bay Preble and potentially two dominating pitchers in the quarterfinals of the WIAA Division 1 State Tournament.
But the Demons are making their fourth straight appearance in the state tournament, a streak which started with their Division 1 championship in 2016. What’s more, they have a one-two senior pitching punch of left-hander Trey Krause and right-hander Trey Turzenski that they would match against anyone in the state.
So even though Preble features a pitching staff headed by left-hander Ryan Stefiuk, a Vanderbilt recruit, and right-hander Max Wagner, who has committed to Clemson, Burlington likes its chances.
“When you face these kinds of pitchers, you’ve got to keep it simple and just try to capitalize on whatever mistakes they make over the plate,” Burlington senior third baseman Tucker Strommen said. “But just as they have two D-I players, so do we.
“It’s going to be a good game Tuesday and hopefully a good three games this week.”
Burlington (23-5) will see Stefiuk (5-1, 0.93 earned run average) Tuesday morning. If he falters, Wagner (6-1, 0.91 ERA) will be available in relief.
It’s an imposing duo to say the least. As longtime Preble coach Andy Conrad recently told Scott Venci of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, “We haven’t had a lot of guys in this area go major level DI and then to have two guys on the same team might be unprecedented. I’ve been coaching a long time and I don’t remember where two guys on the same team were going to play at that level.”
While Burlington doesn’t have the caliber of offense that the 2016 championship team featured, hitting isn’t a liability with the Demons. What’s more, Burlington coach Scott Staude believes Stefiuk, who has 69 strikeouts in 45 innings, can be beaten.
“Stefiuk has reached 92 or 93 (miles per hour) this year,” he said. “So he’s a high 80s guy. He has three pitches, but sometimes his issue is control and command of those three pitches.
“He struggled in the sectional (an 8-7 victory in eight innings over Hortonville). He only pitched 3⅓ innings because he was kind of wild. But he throws hard and, with a guy like that, if you get him out of rhythm a little bit, that’s to your advantage offensively. The downside is he finds it (his rhythm), he’s really tough to hit.”
Preble (24-3) will have similar concerns with Krause, who will be starting a quarterfinal for Burlington for the third straight season.
As a sophomore in 2017, he was hit hard in an 11-1 loss to Hartland Arrowhead, which Burlington had defeated the previous year in the state championship game. But Krause was exceptional in a 2-1 quarterfinal loss to Arrowhead last season, striking out five with no walks in six innings.
“I’m just going to try and leave it all out there because it’s my last year,” said Krause, an Illinois State recruit. “I have experience, I have a great defense behind me and I’m going to rely on my teammates to carry me through the game.”
If Burlington gets past Preble, it would play the winner of Sun Prairie and Oak Creek in a 6 p.m. semifinal Tuesday. Staude will have the luxury of going to a another Division I recruit — the Valparaiso-bound Turzenski — to pitch that game.
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“They are players who are not afraid of the big moment,” Staude said of Krause and Turzenski. “They’ve been in big games. Obviously, you throw your best guys against the best competition and they have risen to the occasion more times than I can even count.
“We feel very comfortable as coaches knowing we have two guys like that. They have a sense of calmness, yet a sense of urgency that definitely feeds off on the other players.”
Those teammates realize they don’t have to necessarily produce big numbers for Burlington to win with Krause or Turzenski on the mound. But Staude has been able to maximize his offense’s potential by tweaking his lineup.
The biggest change has been moving sophomore Kale Dietz (.354, 17 runs) to the top of the lineup. Former leadoff hitter Michael Rozell (.295, 26 runs) has been moved to the No. 9 position, giving the Demons a spark at the bottom of the order.
With Turzenski (.338, three homers, 23 RBIs) and Krause (.400, nine doubles, 21 RBIs) among the other hitters in Burlington’s lineup, Staude had been encouraged by his offense’s potential.
“We have a very balanced lineup,” he said. “It’s tough to compare to our 2016 team. They were so good offensively one through nine that we could just hit our way out of trouble any time. You don’t get many teams like that.
“But if you look at our stats, we’re a high-average team. We’re hitting .312 and our on-base average is well over .400. The big thing I’m looking at is we only struck out 114 times in 28 games, so that’s only 3.5 times per game. In high school, against some of the competition we play, that’s pretty good.
“We’re more scrappy, we’re more of a hit-and-run team where we steal bases and try to manufacture some runs. Honestly, with our pitching and defense, that’s kind of how we’re built anyway.”
One other factor working in the Demons’ favor is another quality pitcher Staude could look to if they made it to Thursday’s 6 p.m. Division 1 championship game. That’s Dietz, who is 5-1 with a 1.58 ERA.
“Kale did not start on the varsity at the beginning of the year,” Staude said. “We knew they we would probably move him up at some point, but we did not need him to throw early in the season.
“We we needed him, we brought him up and not many sophomores can do what he’s done. His numbers are pretty impressive as a sophomore. He’s not overpowering, but he just knows how to pitch.”
Is this all enough for a Burlington to bring home a second state championship trophy is four seasons? Staude can only say he likes his team’s chances as much as anyone else in the field.
“We have seven seniors who are high contributors,” Staude said. “There’s definitely a sense of urgency and I think the state tournament is wide open.
“I think we might have the toughest draw, but regardless, we’ll have to play them at some point anyway.”