No more graduated NOW All-Suburban selections Dakota Slone and Hayden Krimmer, no problem for the defending Greater Metro Conference champion Oak Creek baseball team.
That's because the 11-2 Knights are awash in a sea of sophomore arms that know how to throw strikes and trust their defense while veteran coach Scott Holler has just enough leaders to create a successful mix yet again.
"The biggest change for us so far," Holler said, "is that we're using quite a few sophomores. We're using five sophomores on the mound and three of them have accounted for at least seven of our wins so far."
Including D.J. Ellison, who has a 3-0 record with an 0.57 ERA so far and threw the first seven inning no-hitter for the school since 1996 when he beat West Allis Hale, 7-0, on June 10.
Other young arms include sophomores Mitch Magyar (3-0, 0.00 ERA), Joey Richter and Kurtis Sippy. At the top of pitching line-up are University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh-bound senior co-captain Jesse Sustachek (1.40 ERA, including a shutout of Franklin) and junior Mitch Makarewicz.
"We have no mid to high 80-mile-an-hour guys," Holler said. "They're all mostly around the high 70s to low 80s, and they're all around the strike zone. It also helps that we play defense around them, too. We have six guys currently over 11 innings."
On the position side of things, senior first baseman Mitch Hart was a second-team All-GMC selection last season and is off to a good start again, while fellow second-team all-league choice junior Doran Turchin started the year in center fielder, but has since returned to the shortstop's position to stabilize the infield.
Turchin has been a terror at the plate so far, hitting 22 of 43 (0.512) with six doubles, three triples and a walk-off home run in an opening game win against Waukesha South.
Senior Matt Hargreaves is the other co-captain and is playing third base.
Sophomore Matt Hamilton, who was the Knights' fifth pitcher last season, has been limited in his innings so far but has proved to be invaluable in the outfield.
Other position players include junior Steve Stillwell at catcher, junior second baseman Ryan Farr and outfielders Ellison, Makarewicz and senior Jake Brauner.
Oak Creek has had important wins over Franklin (5-0 on June 2) and Menomonee Falls (8-6 on June 9). The Knights only losses so far have been to area powerhouses Greendale (9-0 on May 31) and Brookfield Central on June 12 (4-0).
Like other coaches in the area, Holler said the pitching in the area so far this early summer has been unbelievably good.
"And we're going to have to beat a couple of those guys (if they want to make and win state)," he said.
So far, Holler, who is in his first year of dual duties as both athletic director and coach, is having fun.
"I'm having as much fun with this group as I've had in a long time," he said. "They enjoy one another, and they're working hard. I've really been impressed with the leadership of the younger guys. Doran (Turchin) has emerged as a great leader, and Stillwell is terrific at controlling the game.
"Just great chemistry."
The Knights have a rematch at Franklin on Thursday, June 19, and then will host Marquette on Friday, June 20, at Abenschein before visiting Wauwatosa East on Monday, June 23. All games are at 5:30 p.m.
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