Lions start process of building for WIAC: Finlandia adds pitching depth for next season

Photo provided by Finlandia Athletics Finlandia’s Joey Krug delivers a pitch during a game against Wisconsin-Oshkosh during the 2019 baseball season. The Lions are bringing in at least 10 players with pitching experience for 2020.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of stories about the incoming class for Finlandia baseball. Keep an eye out here for further previews as we go through the summer.

HANCOCK — As manager Evan Brandt and his Finlandia Lions baseball team learned during the 2019 season, the WIAC is a very tough conference to play in. Teams have a lot of talent, and the Lions need to add to their depth if they want to compete.

Brandt and his staff have started that process by bringing in eight new pitchers this season along with at least two more infielders who can also throw if necessary.

“I think the main thing we learned is that we need better pitching in the terms of not walking guys and better strike-to-ball ratios,” said Brandt. “That is something that we have really looked for this summer. I think we have got that coming in.”

Brandt is looking for pitchers whom he can build around Ashton Donohue, who proved to be a very reliable starter in 2019.

Photo provided by Finlandia Athletics Finlandia’s Brandon Teichman readies to pitch during a game against Wisconsin-Oshkosh during the 2019 baseball season.

“I do like where our returning pitchers are,” he said. “Ashton is killing it in summer league right now. He’s playing in a really good summer league and he’s doing really well.”

Donohue and Will Thompson both return for the 2020 season, and they should leaders for the younger staff.

“(They are) both excited,” said Brandt.“They are both working hard over the summer. They want to come back and dominate.”

Among the incoming class, one pitcher that immediately stands out in Brandt’s mind is Luke Banta. A left handed thrower out of Mississippi, Banta can throw “hard” as Brandt puts it.

“I think he is going to be the real deal,” Brandt said. “He throws the ball hard, he’s got good stuff and he’s very smart.”

Banta is also strong at the plate, something that Brandt values highly as starting pitchers do not throw every day, but if they can hit, he can still find places for them in the lineup.

Among the right handers the Lion are bringing in, Jack Slade is one could stand out very quickly. A Mount Carmel product from Indiana, Slade pitches in what Brandt refers to as a tough baseball conference. However, it is his pitch selection that has his new coach excited.

“He can throw,” Brandt said, “and he has a hammer of a curveball. I think he is going to come in and keep guys off balance. I think he is going to be able to get out of there with low pitch counts.”

At the Division III level, not every player comes into college as a polished athlete. However, with attentive coaching, Brandt feels that those players can really shine, and he has a couple of players incoming that he really likes in James Louis and Greg Walker, who will need guidance as they work to improve their skill sets.

“They are raw athletes,” said Brandt. “They are kids that need some work, but they have good arms. They have good actions. Those two things are really positive for us. They know how to pitch.”

Minnesota native Crespin Herrara-Kult, Puerto Rico native Yadiel Savilla, Michigan native Tyler Hale and Arizona native Carl Hartley will all add to the team’s depth as well.

“Those guys are going to come in and be solid pieces in there,” Brandt said. “I think all those guys have the ability to start for us, but I think, as freshmen, they are going to have a little bit of a learning curve and come in and be a role guy, be a bullpen guy.”

Hale has been a starter throughout his high school career, so Brandt feels that he could be one to watch moving forward. Herrara-Kult and Savilla will also get opportunities to start during the team’s Florida trip to start next season.

Brandt sees Savilla as a guy who could prove invaluable in mid-innings.

“When we get to the conference schedule, Yadiel is going to be a really good matchup guy for us,” Brandt said. “He’s only about 5-foot-7, but he throws hard. He’s an 80-mile-an-hour guy. He’s a fireball.”

Adding to the Lions’ depth are Texas native Chance White and Gabe Voisin.

White, who plays the left side of the infield, surprised Brandt with his pitching ability.

“He pitches pretty darn well,” said Brandt. “I am excited to see, if we get him on the mound, what his ability is up there and what he can really do.

“I think he can take a little bit of that Joey (Krug) role, where he plays some defense Games One, Two and Three, and we pitch him at some capacity in Game Four. He is another guy that we are pretty excited about.”

Voisin, a natural first baseman, pitched a lot in high school as well. Brandt is already comfortable with the idea of bringing him out of the bullpen if necessary.

Having two more guys like Sawyer Murrell and Patrick Coles who can add to the team’s depth in multiple ways is something that Brandt values highly. With that depth, he feels that his team can take that next step in 2020 while playing in a very tough conference.