Menomonee Falls - Every year, it's the same thing for the Menomonee Falls baseball team when the first summer state polls come out.
A ranking in the top 10 with a battle for conference titles and state honors to ensue is usually how it goes.
Only that didn't happen this season for the Indians, as three top-heavy graduation classes in a row had thinned the ranks of the experienced to just a tiny handful. No state ranking, only the hope that came from a dominant junior varsity team a year ago.
And so far this season, hope has trumped experience, as the Indians are off to a striking 11-1 start including a 7-1 start in the Greater Metro.
Veteran coach Pat Hansen is trying not to read too much into this, but he does like what he sees so far.
"It's very nice and we have reason to be excited," he said. "This junior group is a very tight group and reminds me of the senior group a few years ago (Max Poeske, Cole Myhra, etc.) in the way that they get along. I knew this group was good, but even this is a bit of a surprise to me.
"I never dreamed of this quick of a start."
Falls started with a 10-game winning streak, before suffering its only loss to Muskego (3-1) on June 4. Included in that run was the championship in the New Berlin Eisenhower Wood Bat Tourney (8-4 over Eisenhower and 9-2 over Marquette).
Other wins have included Catholic Memorial (11-3), New Berlin Eisenhower (8-5), Brookfield East (4-2), Sussex Hamilton (7-3), Brookfield Central (10-9), Wauwatosa East (6-2), West Allis Hale (6-3), West Allis Central (13-2) and two-time defending state champion Franklin (7-3).
The three returning linchpins for the Indians include senior centerfielder Joel Zyhowski (hitting over .500), senior number one pitcher and first baseman Troy Kenkel and junior returning shortstop and pitcher Brett Krause.
Other starters, almost all newcomers, include senior Ryan Bowe at catcher, Kenkel and number three pitcher junior Brendan Paule at first base, junior second baseman and leadoff hitter Cole Hernikl (14 for 14 in stolen bases and "As good as they come," according to Hansen); juniors Jimmy Kolz and Brian Schmit at third base, junior Justin Johnson in left field, and junior Jake Grollo and senior Nick Mandella rotating in right field. Senior Paul Fitzgerald will also rotate into the outfield.
The pitching staff includes Kenkel, Krause, Paule and sophomore Tom Wolf.
"We have solid depth up and down the line," Hansen said. "We feel we have pretty good people all through the lineup. And they're a great, great bunch of kids. They work hard and they respond well to adversity. We were down 3-1 to Franklin last week and we came back to win.
"They have character in adversity. That's pretty impressive."
Falls started the week one game ahead of Brookfield East (6-2, 9-2) in the GMC with Oak Creek (5-2, 7-3) in third. A hectic week faces the Indians as they took on Marquette (3-5, 6-6) on Monday, Wauwatosa East (3-6, 4-7) on Tuesday, Oak Creek on Wednesday and visit Brookfield East at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
They have a Saturday nonconference doubleheader at Port Washington (11 a.m.) before a return visit to Oak Creek at 5:30 p.m. Monday.
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