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UW-Milwaukee baseball is looking to bounce back from a losing season that placed it sixth in the Horizon League a year ago and get back to its winning ways. There is no better way to help a team improve than from building from the bottom up. This season, the Panthers will welcome two new coaches to the dugout, both of whom were former players at Milwaukee.
Shawn Wegner will be an assistant coach as he returns from a seven-year hiatus from his alma mater. After graduating in 2010, Wegner coached at Minnesota State-Mankato and Wisconsin-Whitewater most recently. He was a part of coaching staffs that led each of these teams to the playoffs. Panther head coach Scott Doffek hopes that the work ethic and recruiting abilities can help the program for many years to come.
Also new to the coaching staff is Drew Pearson. Pearson will be a volunteer assistant coach after coaching previously at Minnesota State-Mankato and Concordia University. He has also worked in the Northwoods League and Hitters Baseball Academy, which adds more depth and diversity to his coaching experience since graduating from UW-Milwaukee in 2013.
As for the players, the Panthers have a big hole to fill in second round draft pick Daulton Varsho (Arizona Diamondbacks). From a position-player standpoint, the team will be coming into the season with little experience. Only five returning position players played in at least half of Milwaukee’s games. With that being said, there are a couple players who had very successful seasons and are ready to be the faces of Milwaukee baseball.
Senior Ben Chally hit .327, placing him as the second best hitter on the team last year. He did even better against conference competition hitting .378 in those contests. Those numbers placed him on First Team All-Horizon League. Chally hopes to instill his hard work and dedication to his teammates during fall practice as he takes on a big leadership role on the team.
Sophomore Trevor Schwecke will also be leaned on heavily by the Doffek. As a freshman Schwecke hit .306 and was honored as Second Team All-Horizon League. Both of these players will be looked upon to lead the lineup, game in and game out.
From a pitching perspective, the Panthers have less uncertainty than their hitters going into fall practice. Most of the pitching staff will be retained from a year ago. The workhorse of the group, Jay Peters, has graduated, but senior Austin Schulfer pitched 82 1/3 innings last year compiling a 3.72 ERA. He figures to take the bulk of the innings and be a mainstay in the starting rotation.
Another intriguing player is senior lefty pitcher Clayton Uselman. Last year was his first with the Panthers after completing his first two years at Madison College. The big lefty did not have any problems adjusting from the Junior College circuit to Division I ball. In the 8 1/3 innings he pitched Uselman did not give up a single run. It will be interesting to see the role that manager Scott Doffek creates for the intriguing player.
At the beginning of the academic year, it looks as if the Panthers will be riding their pitching staff to success come spring. But with the addition of two new coaches, plus the fall and spring practice seasons, there is still a lot of time for every player to improve. Once freshmen get their feet wet in college baseball some may emerge as contributing players this season. That’s the beauty of college ball, you never know who will rise to the occasion and be a star.
UW-Milwaukee’s baseball website can be viewed at MKEPanthers.com