Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 4 Eau Claire Memorial


By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer

The Wisconsin high school season kicks off on March 27th, the first day for regular season games.

Leading up to the opening week of games we will be rolling out team previews of high school teams all across the state and across all classifications, eventually launching our Preseason Power 25.

We will bring you a snapshot of what to expect along with top players and keys to success for that particular team.

Team: Eau Claire Memorial
Preseason Rank: 4
2017 Record: 21-6
Conference: Big Rivers
WIAA Division: 1
Head Coach: Dan Roehl
Playoff Run: Sectional finalists
2017 Final Rank: 13
Returning Starters: 3
Returning Pitchers: 4

KEY PLAYERS LOST

Adrian Bethel, OF/RHP
Adam Krajewski, C (St. Thomas)

TOP PLAYERS

Name State School Class Pos Commitment
Tanner Kohlhepp WI Eau Claire Memorial 2018 SS/RHP Tennessee
Jack Brown WI Eau Claire Memorial 2018 C Minnesota State
Zach Gustafson WI Eau Claire Memorial 2018 OF East Carolina
Keagan Calchera WI Eau Claire Memorial 2018 LHP Minnesota-Duluth
Austin Selz WI Eau Claire Memorial 2018 SS Minot State
Mitchell Froelich WI Eau Claire Memorial 2018 LHP
Jack Fentress WI Eau Claire Memorial 2019 C  
Cooper Kapanke WI Eau Claire Memorial 2019 1B/RHP  
Colin Lekvin WI Eau Claire Memorial 2019 C  
Vincent Trapani WI Eau Claire Memorial 2021 RHP/INF  

Newcomer to watch

RHP Vincent Trapani, a freshman, certainly has the skill to play varsity in his first year in high school but he might not be given the opportunity -- at least, initially. Trapani will be assigned a starter’s role on the junior varsity squad to start the season, mostly because the Old Abes have immense depth on the mound, so they might not need Trapani to debut as a freshman in 2018.

But, that doesn’t mean he won’t force this coaching staff’s hand. Trapani, while a more promising pitcher, is also a high-level athlete who could insert himself into this lineup first. He’s athletic enough to grab some innings in the infield and he can hit, too. He’s already made a name for himself as a pitcher, though, and even if you don’t see him there this year, you will next. Trapani is a high-ceiling prospect with a ton of arm strength for his age. He is a likely candidate for the top spot in Wisconsin's 2021 class once rankings launch. We’ve already seen his fastball reach 86-88 mph and he’s got aggressive secondary stuff to match. He could use a little more fine tuning on the mound to be varsity ready, but once he gets that experience, he’s the next ace in line.

Vincent Trapani (3.11.18)

X-FACTORS

As you’ll soon learn, Memorial is going to be looking for all of the runs it can take this season. The Old Abes are a little unproven about five batters into their lineup, so their class of 2019 can be real difference makers in their chase for the Big Rivers title and ultimately their bid for a state championship.

Namely C Jack Fentress and 1B Cooper Kapanke are two promising bats who can step up and produce some much-needed offensive aid. Presently, Fentress is ranked No. 8 among his class’ catchers in the state. He has shown us some feel behind the plate, especially for his age, and he’s in control of his 6-foot-4 frame which lends him some hard contact gap-to-gap. Kapanke is another big junior (6-foot-3) who has a chance to make an impact with his bat. He makes loud contact and he could become a real factor for the Old Abes’ chances at a state appearance. Fentress will likely split time behind the plate with Colin Lekvin, too. Lekvin is a leader in the dugout and has worked hard to earn playing time for this team. 

Any run production these juniors can provide will alleviate some of the pressure this group of senior arms has on them to prevent runs.

OUTLOOK

The Old Abes will deploy one of the state’s best and deepest pitching staffs this spring and it’s bound to take them on a lengthy postseason run. Their rotation will be manned by three ace-type starters: Zach Gustafson (East Carolina), Jack Brown (Minnesota State), and Austin Selz (Minot State). The trio will be suffocating offenses all season long, taking some pressure off their junior-filled, inexperienced lineup.

Gustafson has demonstrated a profile that might make him the best arm among the three in college, earning himself a Division-I offer, but Brown has been the most effective in high school. Last year, Brown led the staff with an 8-1 record and a 0.84 ERA. He’s head coach Dan Roehl’s old trusty. Brown’s been a member of this staff since he was a freshman and has been praised for his hard work and dedication to his craft on the mound. He pairs a mid-80s fastball, that’s touched 89 mph, with a sharp curveball that’s generally silenced his opposition over his three years on varsity. Brown’s the No. 6-ranked right-handed pitcher in his state’s class while Gustafson is No. 8.

Jack Brown (3.12.17)

The East Carolina-bound righty has been a dynamo ever since he’s been on varsity, too. Gustafson was 3-4 last year but his 1.56 ERA paints a better picture. He and Brown were both second team all-conference selections in the uber competitive Big Rivers Conference. Gustafson uses a mid-80s fastball that features some occasionally hard sink. He also utilizes a curveball with some shape and a changeup that couples especially well with his sinkerball.

And no team has it easy if they dodge either Brown or Gustafson on their schedules. Slated in to be one of the best “back-end” starters in the state is Selz. Committed to Minot State in North Dakota, Selz is another mid-80s arm with a curveball-changeup combo. He’s a dependable strike-thrower that makes this staff a three-headed monster that should keep the team in nearly every ballgame.

As if that weren’t enough, opposing teams won’t have it any easier getting to Memorial’s bullpen. Close ties means they’ll have to come back against their explosive closer: Tanner Kohlhepp (Tennessee).

Kohlhepp is D-I bound and will be pitching at the next level and operates as the Old Abes’ starting shortstop, too. The senior is going to be Coach Roehl’s closer where his upper-80s fastball, that has touched 92 mph in the past, will play even better. Kohlhepp will come out firing, cementing leads and securing wins. He’s got a wicked slider, too, that won’t allow batters to home in on his fastball.

His contributions on the mound will be critical but Kohlhepp might offer more support in the batter’s box. He’ll be a four-year starter once spring ball is underway and is Memorial’s only returning first team all-conference pick. For what the Old Abes have in established talent on the mound, they lack in inexperience in their unpolished lineup. Kohlhepp, OF Keagan Calchera (Minnesota-Duluth), 2B/INF Mitchell Froelich, and OF Kasimer Palzkill are the returning seniors who’ll be responsible for the run-scoring this offense can provide its elite staff. All four hovered around the .300 mark in the box, so they might need to take another step forward, offensively, in order for Memorial to make a real play at state.

BOTTOM LINE

There might not be a team with a deeper staff in the state than Memorial’s. And it’s clearly not just deep, it’s really good. It’s capable of heaving this team all the way back into the sectional finals in order to redeem itself from a loss to their crosstown, intra-conference rivals Eau Claire North in 2017. But once it gets there, it’ll need help from its offense.

Few one-dimensional teams can earn a spot at state and, thus, lift a trophy by the end of the playoffs. Memorial is going to be spending the spring proving that its offense, while working in conjunction with its lights-out pitching, can take them to the top.

Find more information on the 2018 Old Abes below:

+ Full Schedule
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Make sure to follow @PBRWisconsin on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the season.

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN