BANGOR — It’s not usually like this around Cashton High School. At least not for baseball.
After a surprise run to the WIAA Division 4 sectional finals last season — the first for the team in 27 years — the Eagles began this season surrounded by expectations and hype usually reserved for the football or wrestling teams.
And for good reason. The Eagles return their top three pitchers — including reigning Scenic Bluffs Conference pitcher of the year Caleb Fernholz — and most of the lineup from a team that went 14-9.
“We’ve been building up to this,” Cashton coach Josh Fencl said. “(Last year) was a real springboard for us into this year.”
Cashton, ranked No. 5 in the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association Division 4 preseason rankings, evened its Scenic Bluffs Conference record Thursday with a 3-2 victory over Bangor. At times, it was an ugly game — the teams combined for eight errors — but the Eagles (2-1, 1-1) relied on experience and confidence to pull it out.
“We know we are a good team,” said Fernholz, a junior who struck out five of the six batters he faced in the final two innings to pick up the victory. “Our confidence helped us at the end.”
Senior Cameron Onshus was another hero. He lined a single to right to score sophomore Brandon Schmitz with the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh.
Onshus started since he was a freshman for the Eagles and sensed there’s something different about this season.
“There’s people talking about it all the time,” he said. “Even before the season started, there were people talking about it and getting excited for it.”
Cashton won the Class C state championship in 1981 and returned to the state tournament three years later, but there hasn’t been much to celebrate since. Fencl thought only one other team since 1984 won a regional title, and the Eagles haven’t won a conference championship since 1987.
This year’s team has the makeup of a conference title contender. The pitching is strong — Schmitz went 6-0 as a freshman and threw five strong innings against Bangor, striking out five and bouncing back mentally after a series of throwing errors on the same play let two unearned runs score. He teams with Fernholz to give Cashton a pretty lethal rotation most Division 4 teams can’t match.
“We don’t like to rank them really,” Fencl said when asked to name the team’s ace. “We feel real confident in both of them. As we get more into the conference season and tournament, we want to have two pitchers that our guys fully back up and are confident with.”
The infield is experienced and has three-year starters at at almost every position, which is a necessity. Fencl expects more games like Thursday, where one or two plays could decide the outcome.
“We’re OK with playing in close games,” Fencl said. “We’ve been through it in the playoffs.”
It does remain to be seen how the Eagles handle the weight of the expectations as the season progresses. They’re used to being the hunters. Now they’re the ones in everybody’s scope.
“I don’t think our guys think about that too much,” Fencl said. “They just go and play. That’s what other people think. We try to embrace it a little bit. We haven’t been in that position in too many of our sports. These guys kind of like it. It’s something to shoot for.”