Division 4 Team Of The Week: Week 1&2 - Inland Lakes

Bruce Hefflinger
PBR Michigan Senior Writer

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Division 4 Team Of The Week: Week 1&2 - Inland Lakes

INDIAN RIVER - When you are playing for a small school a half hour from the Upper Peninsula, getting seen is not an everyday occurance. But if the Bulldogs of Inland Lakes High School keep playing like they have to date, there should be a lot of people taking notice.

The Prep Baseball Report Division 4 Team of the Week is off to a 5-0 start on the season, outscoring the opposition 62-9 while throwing three no-hitters.

“We have two veterans in Kaden and Connor, who has started since he was a freshman,” head coach Josh Vieau said in reference to Kaden Hansel, the lone senior on the team, and junior Connor Wallace. “They put in a lot of time in the offseason and they listen to pitching coach Shawn Cullver.”

Wallace has been the starting pitcher in a pair of no-hitters so far, with 20 strikeouts in seven innings on the hill, while allowing seven walks. The 2024 left-hander went four innings in a 3-1 win over D-4 22nd-rated Plymouth Christian and three frames in a 17-4 victory over Onaway. Aidan Fenstermaker came on to complete the no-hitter each time.

Hansel threw the other no-hitter by Inland Lakes in a 17-3 triumph over Union Thurston. The right-hander also was the winning pitcher in a 12-0 blanking of Onaway while freshman Cash Depauw put on an impressive performance in a 13-1 win over Pickford with three innings of one-hit relief, striking out eight while not permitting a walk.

“Cash has huge upside,” Vieau said of the 6-0 175-pound right-hander. “He’s taking advice from the older kids and it’s working out.”

Free passes is the lone worry thus far when it comes to pitching for the 10th-year head coach, whose Bulldogs are rated ninth in the state in D-4 by Prep Baseball Report.

“It’s a concern, but not a major concern,” Vieau explained. “We’ve been playing in 40 degrees up here so it should get better when it’s warmer.”

After a 25-8 season a year ago, Vieau admittedly was uncertain entering this campaign.

“We didn’t know what would happen with only one senior, but we have a good freshman class,” Vieau noted. “We’ve had super good leadership which has helped.”

No matter the outlook, expectations never change.

“Every year it’s the same, we expect to be in the Final Four,” Vieau said. “We’ve never been there since I’ve been here, but we’ve been two runs away for several years.”

With strong hitting to date to go along with the solid pitching, Vieau is hoping this is the season the Bulldogs make it back to the state tournament for the second time in school history. The lone previous appearance was a state runners-up finish in 1998.

“The difference will be defense, hitting the baseball and limiting strikeouts,” Vieau explained. “Every year we strike out too much. If we can limit our strikeouts and hit the ball, good things can happen. We’re playing good defense so far with only two errors.”

Wallace is leading the way at the plate with the three-hole hitter, who plays center field when not on the mound, averaging a team-best .714. Junior utility player Jake Willey, who had a two-run homer against Onaway, is batting .571 with Hansel, the leadoff hitter who is at shortstop when not pitching, carrying a .385 average. Freshman second baseman Ty Kolly is also making big contributions with a .365 batting mark.

“Everybody is putting the barrel on the ball,” Vieau said.

But can it continue with opponents on the horizon this week like Friday against Johannesburg, which finished second behind the Bulldogs a year ago when Inland Lakes took home the Sky Valley Conference title with a 16-0 record, the first league crown since 2002 when Vieau was a senior?

“We haven’t seen really good pitching yet,” admitted Vieau, whose squad lost 3-0 in the regional semifinals last season to eventual state semifinalist Rudyard. “We need to be able to hit good pitching. That’s the question. When we see good pitching can we hit it?”