As of July 13, there are just three undefeated teams in the Crow River Valley League. The Waconia Lakers, one of the top teams in the CRVl the past few seasons, are 7-0. The Young America Cardinals, one of the most talented teams in the state, are 4-0. Then, there’s the Winsted Wildcats.
Each year there are some surprises in the CRVL, and this year has been no exception. Carver has been off to a slow start so far. Plato has yet to win a game. Those are big surprises, but the biggest one has to be the Winsted Wildcats.
The Wildcats opened CRVL play this year with a 5-2 win on the road over the Brownton Bruins. It might not have been the prettiest game for the Wildcats, but ever since, all they’ve done is win.
The cast and crew of the Wildcats has some familiar names that fans recognize. They’ve been around a while, but it’s the younger players stepping up this season who have taken the Wildcats to a new level.
Alex Heimerl and Leighton Buhr are two of the youngest players on the roster for the Wildcats. They’ve also been some of the important players for them.
Both Heimerl and Buhr are off to great starts this season. Those two are as versatile as they come. They’ve both turned in some big performances on the mound, and have also had big nights at the plate.
While the growth of Heimerl and Buhr has helped, the veterans have been just as good leading the way. Guys like Jake Prehn, Garrett Zander, Curtis Herbolsheimer, Matt Wroge, Nate Tesch, Luke Theisen, and Ryan Quast are feeling good at where they are at right now, and they should. They’re 7-0 past the midway point of the season, and are now looking to get greedy to put themselves in the best position for the postseason.
What makes Winsted’s impressive start to the season even more impressive is the multitude of ways they win games. They’ve won with pitching. They’ve won with hitting. They’ve won with their defense.
Out of the seven wins for Winsted so far, here are a few ways they’ve scored the winning run or go-ahead run:
– Ryan Quast steals home for the second run in a 2-1 win over New Germany.
– Garrett Zander hits a solo home run in the top of the 10th in a 4-3 win over Plato.
– The offense rallied late for five runs against Watertown in the top of the ninth in a 5-0 win.
That’s a variety of ways to take the lead or win a game.
When people take a look at the lineup for Winsted, it doesn’t blow you away on paper. The game isn’t played on paper, though.
Watch any Winsted game and you can see that they always have nine guys who know how to play the game. They might not be the most talented or flashy players, but they play hard and smart. It works for them.
Wroge has done a great job of putting guys in a spot to be successful this season. In a weird season that has taken its toll on some teams, the Wildcats have thrived.
If they need their pitching to step up in games where the bats are quiet, Winsted has done that. They have two shutouts already this season, and have yet to allow a team score more than three runs in a game all season long.
The pitching staff of Shane Khan, Jake Volness, Prehn, Jenkins, Buhr, and Heimerl has been outstanding for Winsted. Each guy has stepped up and delivered when called upon. Winsted used to be a team that relied heavily on guys like Khan and Volness, but others have stepped up this season. For the season, the Wildcats pitching staff is posting an ERA around 1.14 as a staff. That’s hard to beat.
Some people who look at Winsted’s 7-0 record will tell you to look at who they’ve played. Sure they’ve beaten up on some of the bottom half teams in the CRVL, but look what they just did against Watertown. Khan tossed another gem and the bats came alive late in a 5-0 victory. It was the first time this season a team held the Red Devils scoreless.
One of the most impressive things about the Wildcats this season is their ability to find a way to win games. They haven’t played the best at times, yet somehow, they were able to get a win.
Winsted struggled against Tony Wischnack and New Germany in a matchup earlier this season. It took Ryan Quast stealing home to give them a lead. The Wildcats were tied with winless Plato earlier this season. Garrett Zander delivered with a clutch solo home run. Whatever spot they’ve been in, they’ve found a way to win.
One of the things that gets overlooked when you look at the Wildcats is their defense. That’s what makes them tough. They rarely beat themselves. You have to beat them.
With Quast and Prehn controlling things up the middle, and Tesch with either Heimerl or Schultz on the corners, the Wildcats have always had one of the most consistent and effective defenses in the CRVL. Add some more talent in the outfield with Zander, Herbolsheimer, Buhr, and Kohler, and it’s no wonder runs are hard to come by against the Wildcats.
The Wildcats will have a big test ahead of them this week as they travel to Green Isle and host Young America. As they look to stay perfect on the season with two big games, they’ll also be looking to prove they are for real and a force to be reckoned with.
For in-game updates on the games for Winsted against Green Isle and Young America, follow Kip Kovar on Twitter.
Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports