Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 19 Janesville Craig


By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer, Associate Scout

On Tuesday, April 21, the WIAA Board of Control asserted to cancel all 2020 spring competitions, baseball included. While saddened for the graduating class of 2020, the PBR Wisconsin staff will do its best to highlight what could have been this spring, in what was set to be an exciting campaign filled with intriguing storylines to know and players to follow.

We published our ‘Watchlist Squads’ post on Monday, April 20, spotlighting almost 20 need-to-know programs that fell short of official ‘Bubble’ or Power 25 status for our preseason team rankings. We also declared 18 more programs official ‘On the Bubble’ teams, teams that earned sincere Power 25 consideration.

Today, we continue our countdown to No. 1, the top-ranked team on the PBR Wisconsin Preseason Power 25. We’ll be releasing a team a day in our lead-up to No. 1, and we’re onto No. 19 this evening.

Team: Janesville Craig
Preseason Rank: No. 19
2019 Record: 20-3
Conference: Big Eight
WIAA Class: D-1
Head Coach: Victor Herbst
Playoff Run: Regional Finalists
2019 Final Rank: No. 5
Returning Starters: 4
Returning Pitchers: 3 

OUTLOOK

Craig captured its third Big Eight crown in four springs in 2019 but it can’t be happy with the way their season ended, upended by crosstown rivals Parker in the regional title game. Its stout 2019 class graduated, leaving behind some gaping holes within this starting lineup, but Craig knows how to restock, and there’s plenty of talent leftover to have helped them compete – yet again – inside one of the best conferences in the state.

The seniors on staff were set to carry the load, but sophomore Gavin Kilen, a Louisville commit, is one of the top prospects in the region within his 2022 class. He forced his way into starting as a freshman, hitting .333 and also carrying a 2.83 ERA on the mound. Kilen’s arm strength and natural actions at shortstop are separators for him, and he’s only getting better from the left-handed batter’s box. When baseball is back, Kilen is going to takeover as Craig’s best player, for a new-look team that’s going to be in need of some leadership, given the huge absences following the graduations of the 2019 and 2020 classes.

Gavin Kilen (3/1/20)

Big 6-foot-4 righty Eric McLevige (2021) has been one of the winter’s biggest ‘winners’ after tossing a ‘pen in which he was up to 85 mph in early March. His size and stuff suggests he’s only just beginning to scratch into his immense upside, and we were eager to see him break into the rotation as a junior. McLevige will probably get the first shot at the No. 1 spot atop the staff when things restart in 2021.

Underclassmen RHP/OF Patrick Schorck (2022) and 1B/OF Aiden Schenk (2023) had undetermined roles on this year’s team, but look for them to make impacts next spring for the 2021 edition of the Craig Cougars.

SENIOR SPOTLIGHT

Senior trio OF/RHP Eric Hughes (Wisconsin-Whitewater commit), INF/RHP Colin Hageman (Wisconsin-Stout), and UTL Connor Clark were the ones preparing to shoulder much of the workload from both the plate and the mound in 2020. Hughes is a particularly interesting prospect committed to the nearby Division-III powerhouse Whitewater; he can hit, run, throw, pitch, all at a high level, and he was going to serve as Craig’s motor in 2020. He hit .356 as a junior with a 0.98 ERA.

Eric Hughes (7/16/19)

Hageman is a second base-type with solid actions on defense and at the plate, who also saw some action on the mound as a junior, and he was set to see more opportunity on the mound in his senior spring.

Clark’s a useful utility piece that would have played multiple roles for the 2020 Cougars. A left/left player that returned a .286 batting average to fill out this lineup.

Big corner infielder Dawson Draves also had the chance to impact this offense, with some innate bat strength attached to his right-handed bat.

This year, Craig was set to be a little lighter in the dugout than we’ve been accustomed to seeing, but it’s hard to underestimate the job head coach Victor Herbst and his staff have done to make the Cougars a perennial contender. There was still plenty of talent here to make another run to the Fox Cities possible.

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