Strong team returns for Grafton baseball

Black Hawks’ top two pitchers are a lefty and righty; three all-NSC players are back
Ozaukee Press staff

If one ace pitcher doesn’t match up well against a particular lineup, Grafton High School baseball coach Brian Durst knows his second top hurler will.

The Black Hawks this season picked up Tommy Lamb, a junior lefty who used to play club ball in summer but can join the Hawks after the WIAA moved the sport to spring.

“Coming in from club ball last couple of years, he’s a nice addition to our pitching staff,” Durst said.

The Hawks return right-handed junior Jacob Aleknavicius, who made the North Shore Conference second team last season.

Last year, he went 4-2 as a pitcher with an earned-run average of 2.58. He led the team with 43-1/3 innings pitched, 29 strikeouts and an opponents’ batting average of .246.

“They give us a nice 1-2 combo at the top of our rotation,” Durst said of Lamb and Aleknavicius.

Other pitchers to see time include senior Sam Bulgrin and junior Josh Merkle.

A couple of other players are in the mix that will definitely see time. Time will tell as far as how many innings,” Durst said.

Merkle also will play catcher, taking over for first team all-conference player Jack Pawlak, who graduated. Merkle will split time with Evan Wagner, who will also play second base.

Senior Zach Merkle, a three-year varsity player, will play the hot corner at third base but can also play first base. He had a .938 fielding percentage at both positions last year. He hit .265 on the season and was second on the team with 12 RBI. He clocked two home runs, including a grand slam.

“He’s really done a nice job at third base and is a great first baseman,” Durst said.

Sophomore Colin Indermuehle will play shortstop.

“He was consistent as a freshman, made plays we expected him to make and ones we didn’t expect him to make. He started to look like a top player,” Durst said.

When Aleknavicius isn’t pitching, he will likely play second base, but he can play third and shortstop.

Lamb will play first base when he isn’t pitching, with sophomore Nathan Woolf also seeing time there.

The Hawks’ leadoff hitter and star outfielder Jake Garncarz will patrol center field. He hit .364 and led the team in hits with 20, runs with 14, steals with seven and total bases with 23, and he was selected to the all-conference second team. He just signed a letter of intent to continue his baseball career at Carroll College next year.

“He’s one of the top athletes in the conference. He has great speed and a strong arm, He’ll be on base for us at the top of the lineup,” Durst said.

Senior Carson Bernd, another addition from club baseball, will play right field after playing center his whole life.

“You know we’ve got a good defensive outfield,” Durst said.

Adam Schnell and Bulgrin will see time in left field.

With baseball now a spring sport for the first time across the state, and thus competing with track and golf, Durst said he lost one varsity player and a couple of sophomores to the links.

But Durst likes his team. About 43 players fill the varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams, including 18 freshmen.

“We’ve got a really nice lineup right now solidified by a couple of new faces. I like what I see,” he said.

Besides Pawlak, the Hawks lost Zach Brandenburg, an all-conference honorable mention at pitcher, to graduation.

The Hawks got the season off to a winning start on Monday by beating conference rival Cedarbug, 5-1, on the road.

Lamb started and went five-plus innings, allowing one run while strking out seven and walking five.

Bulgrin pitched the final two innings.

The Hawks scored two runs in the first and fourth innings, and scored one in the third. They only had six hits, but it was enough. Their pitchers only allowed two.

Garncarz and Indermuehle walked to start the game and, after a strikeout, a ground out moved the runners up, setting the table for Aleknavicius.

The junior hit a clutch two-RBI single to center field.

“That gave us the spark that we needed,” Durst said.

“Knowing we had Lamb on the mound, we make sure we get a couple of runs and play defense the rest of the way.”

The Bulldogs threatened often, but the Hawks’ defense made plays or Lamb got out of jams himself.

Durst said Indermuehle made a great diving backhanded stop in the hole to record an out.

The other Hawks’ runs came in on groundouts.

Indermuehle led the team with two hits, two runs and a walk.

Josh Merkle went 2-for-4. Lamb had a hit and a walk, and Zach Merkle reached on an error and had an RBI.

The Hawks’ top two pitchers become more important given the NSC schedule has teams playing home and away games against the same opponent on Monday and Wednesday of each week.

“We weon’t see the same pitcher twice, more than likely,” Durst said.

Spring ball also has teams put into divisions according to school size, rather than the one division of summer baseball.

But the Hawks’ regular season will still be tough.

“Our whole season that we play is always against some of the stronger programs and Division 1 schools. We love our conference. We appreciate being able to play against that caliber of team every night. Hopefully, that carries into the postseason. Hopefully, it gives us confidence to take on smaller schools,” Durst said.

The Hawks were to host Cedarburg on Wednesday, host Whitnall at 10 a.m. Saturday, play at Hartford at 4:30 p.m. Monday and host Hartford at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 10.



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