---- — TEUTOPOLIS — Justin Fleener has won two state championships and finished third in the state twice in his time as Teutopolis High School's baseball coach.
One of those third-place finishes was earlier this year, and despite losing his two dominant starting pitchers, Fleener is ever the optimist. It's served him well to this point.
"We're missing some guys that were key, key components to that team," Fleener said. "But we're returning some pretty key guys off that team."
The coach is right. The Shoes graduated starting pitchers Kyle Pruemer and Jared Waldhoff, the latter being named the Effingham Daily News' All-Area Player of the Year.
But they also bring back five starters from that team and have plenty to work with. Pruemer and Waldhoff combined to pitch 115 innings last year and go 16-2 combined with a sub-1.00 ERA.
"They did a good job, eating up the innings," Fleener said. "We had some younger kids that have been waiting their turn to step up a while. Maybe our pitching won't be as good, but our defense should help them out."
The pitching staff should be anchored by a number of different pitchers, including first baseman Darren Probst and All-Area first teamer Bobby Wenthe. Both pitched some in the spring and summer, but will be counted on this fall.
Louis Niemerg, Justin Kenter, Reed Hardiek and Cody Will are also expected to try their hands in the rotation, as they have varying experience both on the Wooden Shoes and in various summer leagues.
"We're going to have some time here in the fall to develop guys," Fleener said.
Wenthe and John Ungrund will hold down some of the outfield spots, while Hardiek and Will will play second base and shortstop, respectively. Probst returns to first base, and senior catcher Alex Goldstein will anchor the backstop.
Goldstein is coming off a strong season of his own, where he earned All-Area honorable mention after hitting .410 with a .510 on-base percentage. He had 16 RBIs and nine doubles on the season.
Fleener also pointed out a number of young players who will be put into the lineup at various points in the fall, including Kyle Smith, Austin Johnson, Michael Drees and Jacob Repking.
"We've got some sophomores that are going to see some time up there as well," Fleener said. "Jacob Repking had a pretty good summer with the stick and is able to play a number of different positions."
While the Wooden Shoes are indpendent and have no conference affiliation, the fall is used as a time of development for their annual spring playoff push. But despite the new faces, the Shoes and Fleener only know one goal to play for: to win.
They also want to begin to get past the third-place finish of last season and start fresh toward another deep playoff run, Fleener said.
"The guys come back with that, working it back up so we can do it again," he said. "These guys that were on this team last year know the level of play. They start working on it to get back to that point."
The Shoes' season begins today at 5 p.m. when they host Webber Township.
Seniors: Andy Borries, Alex Goldstein, Reed Hardiek, Justin Kenter, Darren Probst, John Ungrund, Bobby Wenthe, Cody Will
Juniors: Jordan Bloemer, Tommy Flach, Austin Hartke, Wade Jansen, Brock Mette, Louis Niemerg, Cody Runde, Jordan Thoele
Sophomores: Ross Althoff, Michael Drees, Austin Johnson, John Kreke, Jacob Roepke, Devin Smith, Kyle Smith, Tyler Westendorf