Young Crestwood baseball team battles hard during 2018 season


CRESCO - There’s an old saying that goes, ‘Don’t judge a book by the cover.’ Translating this to sports, one could say that it’s not fair to judge a team solely on its final record.
Looking at the final record for the 2018 Crestwood varsity baseball team (5-24 overall, 2-16 NEIC), it was obvious that the Cadets struggled to win games. However, that final record does not do justice to how hard the team worked during practices and in games this season.
Before the season started, Cadet Head Coach Gary Steffen noted that the 2018 varsity squad would be almost completely different than the 2017 team in terms of players on the roster. 
While last year’s team had several juniors and seniors on the roster, this year’s team did not have an abundance of upperclassmen. The 2018 team included eight freshmen,  two sophomores, four juniors and one senior.
The upperclassmen included: Jared Haskin, senior; Colter Bye, junior; Frank Hrdlicka, junior; Shane Vokaty, junior; and Jon Henry, junior.
The freshmen and sophomores included: Matthew Slifka, sophomore; Bryden Juelsgaard, sophomore; Carter Henry, freshman; Reid Wiley, freshman; Hunter Bye, freshman; Gabe Grabau, freshman; Kade Munkel, freshman; Justin Kerian, freshman; Ashton McConnell, freshman; and Landon Simiele, freshman.
Justin Denner and Kolby LeFebvre served as assistant coaches this season.
The Cadets opened the season with losses to North Fayette Valley, Oelwein and Charles City before they crushed Osage, 10-0, for their first win of the season on May 31. Crestwood lost two games to New Hampton, fell to South Winn, were downed by Turkey Valley and lost a tough game to Saint Ansgar, 13-14.
Crestwood edged Clayton Ridge, 8-6, on June 7 before it dropped nine games in a row against Waverly, Decorah, Waukon, Oelwein and New Hampton.
The Cadets tripped Charles City, 4-3, in the first game of a doubleheader on June 26. After falling to Charles City and Turkey Valley, the Cadets beat Lansing Kee, 7-5; and topped Waukon, 8-0. Crestwood closed the regular season with losses to Decorah, Mason City Newman and Waterloo West.
In the first round of the district tournament on July 13, the Cadets lost to No. 6 Waverly-SR, 0-11, in five innings.
Although Crestwood’s final overall record this year does not look good in terms of wins and losses, Steffen said he enjoyed coaching the team and praised them for giving a solid effort every day.
“I’ve loved working with this group because it was all about baseball this season,” Steffen said. “The guys worked hard every day in practice and we were competitive in every game. Early in the year, we struggled but by the end, we won a few games. The best thing about this year is that all of our guys are coming back (except for seniors Reece Meinecke and Jared Haskin).”
Steffen noted that juniors on the 2018 team (Frank Hrdlicka, Jon Henry, Colter Bye and Shane Vokaty) provided great leadership for the team. Frank’s pitching really improved this year. Colter had a very good year at the plate, and Shane was the perfect leadoff hitter for us with his speed. Jon did a good job as our catcher blocking balls in the dirt and helping our young pitchers develop.
“Those juniors were the foundation of our team, and they helped to lead us,” Steffen said. “I want to thank the juniors for all their efforts this year.”
The coach also gave kudos to senior Jared Haskin.
“Even though Jared had not been out for baseball since his freshman year (in 2015), he developed fast and played well this year,” Steffen said.
Sophomores Matthew Slifka and Bryden Juelsgaard had a “big impact” on the team this season, according to the coach.
Steffen praised his freshmen class as well for their solid efforts.
“We had four to five freshmen who started games this year,” Steffen said. “Even though playing varsity was a big step for them at the plate, by season’s end, they were putting the ball in play (on a regular basis).
The coach noted Reid Wiley and Carter Henry both played well on the varsity team, and Gabe Grabau did a good job on the mound throwing strikes.
“Kade Munkel is loaded with talent and speed,” Steffen said. “Hunter Bye is a good all-around player, and he was one of our hardest working players this year.
“Justin Kerian developed into a good first baseman this year, and he has the potential to be a good hitter. Ashton McConnell was not afraid to pitch, and he did a great job of throwing strikes. Landon Simiele came into games mainly as a courtesy runner this year, and he did a good job of running the bases,” Steffen said.
To say the least, the coach is optimistic going into the 2019 season.
“I think there are nothing but good things to come for us next year. We need to work hard next spring. All of our guys are going to grow bigger and stronger. The fact that so many guys played varsity this year will be huge for us next year,” Steffen said.
The coach said that even though the Cadets lost to Waverly-SR in the district tournament this year, that will make them better for the 2019 season.
“Despite losing in districts, our guys got some good experience,” Steffen said. “Maybe next year, playing in districts won’t be such an eye-opening and nervous situation for the guys.
“I’m excited for the future (of the Cadet baseball program). I have really enjoyed the season because this group has been very fun to work with.
“Looking only at the record does not really indicate the season we’ve had. From the first game of the season to the end, all of our guys have grown, and they’ve gotten better. By the end of the year, we won a few games.
“Our entire pitching staff will be back. They will continue to get stronger. We’ll also have a lot of freshmen who will be stronger. On a daily basis this year, our guys competed hard and never threw in the towel. It was enjoyable for me to come to practice and games because our guys played their hearts out.
“Next spring will be important for us. It will still take some work, but we can get our arms strong. We’ll have a good foundation of players (coming back for the 2019 season). 
“Next year, we can’t use the excuse that we’re young because of the experience our guys got this year. Our goals (for 2019) will be to have a winning record, compete for the conference title and make a run in the post-season,” Steffen said.

Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

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214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

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