Guenther continues mound brilliance, batters rake in key battle
WATERFORD – It’s not crazy to offer the educated guess that the only reason the Waterford baseball team hasn’t made it to the state tournament the past two seasons, or the past five or so years for that matter, is none other than the arch-rival Burlington Demons.
But with five players from the Demons’ unforgettable 2016 state championship run currently playing college baseball, the balance of power is finally shifting in the Southern Lakes Conference, and the patient, steady Wolverines could be the biggest benefactor.
Already ranked in the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association state poll as honorable mention, Waterford received another confidence boost with a No. 6 ranking in Tuesday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel area rankings.
Waterford, fresh off a victory over the state’s No. 8 squad, Wilmot, last week, fell to another ranked foe, Westosha Central, 9-3, on Tuesday, thanks in part to allowing five runs in the decisive sixth inning.
But the Wolverines, led by All-Area Player of the Year candidate Aaron Chapman, evened the score Thursday behind a pitching diamond in the rough, junior Zach Guenther.
Conjuring memories of former star Wolverine pitchers Dylan Malecki and Tony Ray, Guenther improved to 5-0 in Thursday’s home 9-1 shellacking of Central.
Guenther, who has allowed only six earned runs in 29-2/3 innings this year with 26 strikeouts, fired a two-hitter against the solid lineup of the Falcons.
Waterford now sits alone atop the SLC standings at 7-3 (10-3 overall). Roughly halfway through the season, the Wolverines are staking their claim as the league’s top team, with a crucial two-game series against two-time defending conference champion Burlington coming up Tuesday and Thursday.
While the true litmus test awaits against the Demons, the team that pulverized Waterford with ease in last year’s sectional final, one thing’s for sure – these Wolverines can mash.
No. 3 hitter Chapman, who went 1-for-2 Thursday with a home run, is only the start of a powerful batting order.
Aaron’s younger brother Andrew was 3-for-3, and Boyd Biggs added two hits.
More importantly, the team combined for 10 hits, scattered among seven players.
Aaron Chapman and Biggs are hitting .591 and .588, respectively.
Head coach Lance Bestland’s squad demonstrates the ability to hit up and down the lineup, and their fight to win is evident.
““In the beginning, we had solid pitching and some timely hitting,” Bestland said of last week’s six-game win streak. “At the end of the week, we had better approaches at the plate and clutch hitting. So far I have noticed they have a fight to win.”
On Saturday, Waterford overcame a 7-3 deficit to rally in the final few innings in beating Catholic Central. Biggs and Brendan Snyder came through with the clutch knocks when the team needed a miracle.
Waterford has proven it can win with dominant pitching, pitching by numbers, consistent mashing and by thrilling comeback.
This squad has what it takes to sweep the Demons, though that’s a tall task.
While not as loaded as its state tournament clubs in 2016 and ’17, Burlington possesses the best pitching staff in the league, and its team batting average is over .300.
With a stacked league, including Wilmot, Burlington and Westosha Central all in the latest area rankings, splitting each two-game series could be enough to win the SLC. Waterford did that against its Kenosha County opponents.
The real test commences at Burlington Tuesday, when Guenther should be ready to go on four days rest. However, don’t be surprised if the Wolverines go pitcher-by-committee and save Guenther for Thursday, May 10.
Burlington should be more rested, though, as it played a doubleheader against Union Grove Tuesday and has the luxury of pitching whomever, even bringing up some junior varsity arms, in a nonconference contest against Kenosha Bradford Friday night.
Junior right-hander Trent Turzenski, who shut down the Broncos in a 2-1 victory Tuesday, has the power to combat Waterford’s hitters, and he might have a poor pitching performance against Waterford last season in the back of his mind.
And Burlington ace Trey Krause, a crafty, yet also overpowering lefty, will be extremely difficult to hit.
If the teams set up a Krause-Guenther pitcher’s duel next Thursday, it’s sure to be must-see theater.
The Lakes is the most wide-open its been in at least three years, and Waterford’s tough luck may just run out.