Wauwatosa East baseball coach Brian Karas has 11 letter winners, including four three-year players.
'This team and coaching staff couldn't be more excited for the 2016 season to get underway,' Karas said. 'This is our most experienced team that we've had in a long time, featuring eight seniors, six juniors and a sophomore.'
Seniors Dan Scallon (center field), Jake Halstead (second/third base) and Spencer Michaelis (pitcher/shortstop) and junior Aaron Plaisted (pitcher/first/outfield) are the three-year varsity players. Here's a closer look.
Scallon was second on the team in extra base hits with five, led the team in stolen bases 13-for-13 and was an honorable mention all-conference outfielder last year. Halstead is 'a very fluent hitter' who hasn't caught a lot of breaks. He has the potential to have a breakout season.
Michaelis was plagued by back issues all of last season and wasn't able to pitch or hit comfortably the entire season. He's back to being fully healthy this season, and Karas has high expectations that he'll show other teams what they've been missing.
Plaisted ended up hitting .279 last season, but he had stretches where he was East's best hitter. He played mostly in left field and turned out being a very good outfielder. He should also see some time at first base this season, where he could shine as well.
There are also seven two-year varsity players.
Senior Sean Denny (pitcher/third) was honorable mention All-Suburban and all-conference (infield). He led East in hitting with a .408 batting average extra base hits with seven doubles. Senior Sean Murphy saw time at third base and the outfield last season but could be transitioned to more of a first/third baseman this season. 'As long as Sean has learned lessons from the past couple of years, he could have a breakout year in 2016 as well,' Karas said. 'The tools are there — if he can put it together could be an impactful player.'
Junior Ricky Serrano hit .292 last year as the every day starting catcher as a sophomore. 'He's not a power hitter by any means but could find a hole in the defense and drop the ball in there,' Karas said. 'Another one of our guys that worked his butt off this off-season to improve; will be a definite contributing factor to this team.' Junior Blake Kratzer (second/shortstop) came up to varsity from JV just after the midway point of the season due to injuries. He ended up starting 12 games and hit .375 and made only two errors in 45 chances. 'An absolute gamer,' Karas said. He has been in some big situations on the court in varsity basketball and volleyball, so he can handle those high-pressure situations.'
Senior Konner Szohr has a very strong arm in the outfield. 'If he can hone in his throws better this season, he could be a contributing factor in left or right,' Karas said. 'He was the heart of the team.' Junior Isaac Martin (pitcher/outfielder) came up last year to fill in for a depleted pitching staff. He has worked to increase his velocity and develop a much better breaking ball this season. 'He has a lot of potential on the hill,' Karas said. 'He just needs to find the consistency around the strike zone.'
Sophomore Jeff Mason came about a third of the way into the season due to injuries as a pitcher only and ended up being East's Team Pitcher of the Year.
Karas also mentioned some promising newcomers to look for in senior Michael Lockhart, junior Sam Rutkiewicz and senior Brian Denny. Lockhart started as a catcher as a sophomore and returns after playing a year of club ball.
'He's excited to be back and playing baseball with his classmates, and we're very happy to have his new and improved bat in the lineup this year,' Karas said.
Rutkiewicz, a three-sport varsity athlete (soccer/basketball), is a gamer. He covers a lot of ground in the outfield and has a strong arm. Brian Denny is a natural leader with a very positive attitude.
Karas feels defense will be the Red Raiders' strongest area, and the depth should help during the long season.
'This year's theme is to 'Go big or go home,'' Karas said. 'Two years ago, it was a learning experience where we suffered a number of big losses; last year it was still a bit of a development year where we were plagued by a number of injuries but lost a lot of very close games.'