Effingham Daily News
After two seasons atop the state of Illinois 2A baseball, Teutopolis advanced to the final eight teams in the state last season before falling to Trenton Wesclin.
The Wooden Shoes will look to remedy that this year, as they come off a very successful 30-9 campaign and take a run at another state championship.
Head coach Justin Fleener said he has no idea what the season will hold in terms of wins and losses, but knows the road will be predictably difficult.
"It starts all over again," Fleener said. "It's going to take, as it does with every team that gets there, good pitching, timely hitting, good defense.
"Regionals are going to be tough, sectionals are tough, it's all gonna be tough. We're shooting to get back to that point, but it's a long road to get there."
The Shoes are without Mark and Dylan Niebrugge, Brandon Hemmen and Nick Kreke from last year.
It's a lot of talent to replace. Niebrugge led the team in average (.443), hits (54), doubles (15), RBI (40) and tied Kyle Pruemer and Bobby Wenthe for the team lead in home runs (four).
He may have been more impressive on the mound, going 11-1 in 73 innings of work, compiling a 0.77 ERA while striking out 87 batters.
The cupboard is never bare at Teutopolis. Jared Waldhoff and Pruemer both hit .372 last year, while Wenthe hit .333 on the year.
Waldhoff will play shortstop and lead off for the Shoes.
"He sets the table for everyone, he gets on base, he's got a good stick and good wheels," Fleener said.
Pruemer, Wenthe and Wendling will see time in the middle of the order. The Shoes are counting on Derek Smith to rebound from his junior year, where he was sidelined for the majority of the year. He returned late, but didn't get his feet under him and went 1-for-16 in limited action.
Fleener is also hoping Alex Goldstein can capitalize on a good fall ball season, and carve out some playing time after receiving 10 at-bats last season.
Replacing Niebrugge's production on the team may not be possible, but it won't be a sinking point for the Shoes.
"If we don't have that, we're still hoping to get some run production," Fleener said. "Someone can get close to that."
Pruemer will also be most likely to carry the load on the pitching staff. Outside of Niebrugge, Pruemer led the team in innings pitched with 57.3. He went 6-2 with a 1.83 ERA and struck out 76 batters. In terms of percentage of batters faced, no Shoe was better at striking out opposing hitters than Pruemer.
From there, Wenthe, Waldhoff, Rourke Schultz and Michael Gillespie all pitched at least 15 innings.
The staff will be deeper than that, with a number of live junior arms as well.
"I think I have 11, 12 pitchers on staff," Fleener said. "I'm looking forward to seeing how these pitchers do this spring, especially with the heavy schedule we have."
Pruemer should hold down first base, while Wendling and Wenthe will patrol the outfield. Derek Smith and Reed Hardiek will play in the middle infield, and Hardiek could see some time at catcher.
The Niebrugges and Hemmen were consummate leaders on the field, but Fleener knows from his time at Teutopolis that someone will step up to fill the leadership void.
"I feel pretty confident — I've felt that way for a while," he said.
While the pitching staff is deep and had a measure of success in the fall, it's the offense that could use a little work early in the season.
As it always is in baseball, Fleener feels the offense could use more consistency.
"We always need to improve offensively," he said. "We get streaky some time, and we get streaky in the bad way.
"You try to avoid that as a team. Everyone's going to make some outs. You pick each other up."
This will be Teutopolis' first season as an independent after its school-wide switch from the National Trail Conference.
They still will play a number of NTC teams, including Stew-Stras, St. Anthony, Dieterich, South Central, Neoga and Altamont.
The Wooden Shoes open play Saturday with a home doubleheader against the Salem Wildcats.