With most of last year’s starters back, Grafton set to step up in North Shore
When the Grafton Black Hawks open the 2014 baseball season against Shorewood this Friday, they’ll take the field without several familiar faces.
Gone will be standouts such as Alex Nennig and Brett Rasmussen, who have graduated, and Beau Benzschawel, who will forego his senior season to focus on training as a scholarship football player at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
But those losses don’t mean the Hawks will be scrapping for talent this year. Their roster is loaded with varsity veterans, led by two senior co-captains coming off All-North Shore Conference honors in 2013.
Nate Lukas, whose pitching and hitting talent earned him first-team recognition as a utility player, will cap his prep career before heading to Truman State University in Missouri on a baseball scholarship.
Lukas batted .432 in NSC games and drove in 17 runs. As a pitcher, the left-hander worked a league-high 57 innings and had a 3-5 record and 2.70 earned-run average.
Infielder Choo Weisflog received All-NSC first-team accolades for the second straight season. He batted .415 in league play, scored 23 runs and had a .477 slugging percentage.
Lukas and Weisflog were also given honorable mention in all-state voting.
“We have big expectations with both of those players back,” said Brian Durst, who enters his 14th year as Grafton’s head coach.
“They’ve both proven themselves as great players and leaders, and we just want them to come back and have solid seasons again.”
The Hawks have plenty of additional talent in their bid to improve on a sixth-place, 8-10 record in the NSC last year.
Their other varsity veterans include seniors Will Birch (utility/pitcher) and Tristan Meyer (outfield) and juniors Adam Cibulka (catcher/infield), Bryan Sternig (outfield), Brad Parsons (infield/pitcher), Nathan Koehler (utility/pitcher) and Bryce Fisk (pitcher/outfield).
Cibulka and Birch will provide a solid catching tandem, and Sternig “will be one of the top defensive centerfielders we’ve had here,” Durst said.
Lukas, Koehler and Fisk return as the Hawks’ top three pitchers, with Parsons and Weisflog ready to go in relief.
“We have great depth with seven kids able to pitch and two catchers,” Durst said.
Durst is also counting on contributions from sophomore Adam Lukas, Nate’s brother, who will get playing time as first base, third base and designated hitter.
“He can also pitch. He’s a hard thrower,” Durst said.
Durst expects defending NSC champion Germantown, Whitefish Bay, Homestead and Cedarburg to be among this year’s top teams but also expects the Hawks to stand tall. That’s if they can replace the offensive production of Nennig and Benzschawel, who combined to drive in 40 runs in conference games in 2013.
“I’d definitely like to consider us a title contender this season,” he said. “We have the pitching and the athletes, so it’s a matter of picking up the run production.”
After hosting Shorewood at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Grafton will travel to Sheboygan Falls on Saturday for a 10 a.m. game.
On May 27, the Hawks will continue nonconference play with a 5:30 p.m. home game against Brookfield East.
Image information: THE PITCHING and hitting of senior Nate Lukas will be key weapons for the Grafton High School baseball team this season. Photo by Sam Arendt