Wauwatosa West baseball coach Chad Mateske is never afraid to tell you what's on his mind. Especially when he believes someone is dissing his ballplayers.
"Well, if you believe what the (Woodland Conference) coaches say, then I guess we should finish last again in the conference," Mateske said. "Luckily, my players and I don't put any stock into the lack of respect that is afforded to our program year after year.
"We were picked to finish last, last year, and we tied for the conference championship (14-3), made it to sectionals, were ranked second in the state heading into the playoffs and had the State Player of the Year (Austin Jones) on our team. So I guess go ahead and bet against us if you want."
Mateske admits nothing will come easy for the Trojans this season.
"While we do have lots to work out, still this season I expect that we will be competitive and put ourselves in a position to have a say in the conference championship and to be in position to make a run in the playoffs again. Underdog? We love the chance to prove people wrong at West."
Mateske lost some talented players, but he has some talent coming back, led by senior Willie Belknapp, an All-Conference pitcher who returns.
"We expect Willie to continue his development as an outstanding baseball player that serves as an additional coach on the field for us," Mateske said.
Multisport star Zach Veit, a junior, returns after earning honorable mention All Conference. Veit, who played outfielder and pitcher last season, will take over the catching duties this year.
"We expect Zack will also continue to grow from his experience as a sophomore last season and be a key component of our team's success this summer."
Seniors Will Darling, an infielder/catcher, Tyler Wells, an infielder, and Sam Olson also return.
"Sam is moving to an outfield position to allow for the best defensive alignment we can create," Mateske said of the first baseman by trade.
Mateske is also excited about senior Nick Orlowski, a returning infielder/pitcher.
"Nick could be the lynchpin in our season if he hits as he is capable of and pitches like we feel he can," he said. "He may also find some time at third base if needed. He has All-Conference capabilities if he stays focused."
Another senior infielder/pitcher, Pat Dunn, also returns.
"He has a nice amount of experience under his belt from last year," Mateske said. "He has worked hard this off-season and will be a leader for our team both on and off the field."
Mateske is also excited about sophomore outfielder/pitcher Jacob Greenberg and junior infielder/pitcher Jonathan Meyer.
"Jacob is a solid young baseball player," he said. "Though he is young, he has all the abilities to be an All-Conference level player. There was a reason he pinch hit in the seventh inning of our sectional game against Pius as a freshman.
"I trusted him to come in and put the ball in play hard. The center fielder from Pius made a fully extended diving catch to rob him of at least a triple. I look forward to seeing what he does this year."
Mateske thinks that Meyer could also play a part on this year's team.
"He will be fighting to help solidify our defense and will provide some nice offense if he makes consistent contact," he said. "We will also work to develop his pitching during the season."
Mateske will get the opportunity to see his team in action on their new field at Breitlow at noon Saturday against crosstown rival Tosa East. There will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and Superintendent of Schools Phil Ertl will toss out the first ball.
The JV will play the first game on the new field at 9:30 a.m., while the freshman will play at the same time on the old field.
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