In this June 29, 2018 file photo, Josh Randolph swings at a pitch for the Rhinelander Post 7 Rebels during a game against Phillips/Prentice in Prentice. The Rebels will open American Legion 19U play Saturday with an invite at Antigo. (Jeremy Mayo/River News)
6/6/2019 7:33:00 AM Legion baseball preview Rebels have shortened GNLC slate, tougher non-conference schedule
Looking to bounce back from a surprising early exit from last year's Class AA regional tournament, the Rhinelander Post 7 Rebels have ratcheted up their schedule this summer. Play will begin this weekend against arguably the team's top nemesis.
The Rebels are scheduled to travel to Antigo Saturday as part of a three-team invitational at Kretz Brothers Park. The Typhoon knocked off Rhinelander in the regional championship game a season ago and then beat the Rebels in the first game of last year's regional before Rhinelander followed it up with a stunning 3-1 loss to Northwood.
That's not the only change for the Rebels. There's a new field of teams for this year's Rebel Invite to be held over Father's Day weekend and the Great Northern Legion Conference is down to five teams for its fourth year of existence.
All of it adds up to a tougher schedule for Rhinelander's 19U summer team, which will include a number of mainstays from this spring's Rhinelander High School baseball team.
"On paper, definitely it's a stronger schedule than we've had in the past several years both for the invite and for overall schedule all together," Rebels manager Dan Huhnstock said. "We had some open dates that we could use to fill up and that just the way we're able to work out a schedule this year."
Though Huhnstock said the exact makeup of the roster is yet to be determined, a number of this year's seniors should be on the team in some shape or form. That's a good thing for the Rebels, as seniors had four of the top five batting averages for the Hodags this spring, and made up a bulk of the pitching staff.
Junior Danny Zuiker led the Hodags this spring hitting .353 with seven RBIs. Behind him, came seniors Martin Hoger (.321, 0 HR, 7 RBIs), Bryce Schickert (.310, 1, 11), Josh Randolph (.296, 2, 17) and Liam Stevens (.291, 0, 15). Randolph and Schickert formed a 1-2 punch on the mound as well. Randolph was 3-3 with a 1.53 ERA while Schickert was 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA.
Rhinelander is also hoping that the summer will lead to hotter bats, like last year, when the Rebels led the GNLC with a team .403 batting average. Junior Abe Laggis, en route to first-team all-conference honors, hit .706 (12 of 17) in GNLC games last summer.
College freshmen who were born on or after Jan. 1, 2000 are still eligible to compete. The Rebels will not have any of those players this summer. From the class of 2018, only Brad Comer was age-eligible this year, but following his spring season with UW-Stevens Point, he has signed to play with the Wisconsin Woodchucks of the Northwoods League. Comer collected his first hit in the wood-bat league last Sunday in a home loss to Madison.
"It definitely raises the caliber of play for him, which is exactly what he needed," Huhnstock said, offering his congratulations to Comer. "He did have a home to come back to if he needed it and would have been extremely welcome, but this is the best situation for him I do believe."
The makeup of the GNLC is different this year. Minocqua is back in the league after not fielding a Legion team last summer due to low numbers, while Chequamegon and Tomahawk pulled out of the summer league that closely mirrors the Great Northern Conference in the spring.
The Rebels went 10-0 in league play last year, though they expect to feel a challenge from GNLC runner-up Medford, which won the Great Northern this spring, as well as Mosinee. Of course, as Rhinelander found out the hard way last July, even Northwood - a combination of the Northland Pines, Three Lakes and Crandon programs - cannot be overlooked.
"Obviously, our goal is to have the same success of winning the conference again," Huhnstock said. "It's going to be one of our stated goals, but I think it's gonna be a little bit tighter competition this year."
Over the past few years, GNLC teams have made up the remainder of the field for the Rebel Invite. That will change this year as Rhinelander welcomes Upper Peninsula of Michigan teams Hancock and Marquette, along with Clintonville and former Wisconsin Valley rival Everest. The five-team round-robin tournament will take place over Father's Day weekend - which will be the first home games of the summer for the Rebels.
Legion regionals are set for the third weekend in July. The location and opponents for Rhinelander's regional will be announced at a later date. Though with Merrill still in AAA this season and Minocqua electing to play in the Junior Legion (17U) regionals, Huhnstock expects the draw will be the same as last year, with the Rebels facing Antigo, Northwoods and Shawano.
"I would assume it'll be the same teams as we had last year for the regional and could be very competitive," he said.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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