Burlington assistant coaches Ryan Hoffman (left) and Bob Lee are all smiles after the team’s sectional final victory June 5 at Kenosha Tremper High School. Lee earned a game ball after the sectional final victory. Check out Thursday’s Burlington Standard Press for a tribute to the Demons, who advanced to state for the third straight time this season. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

The Wilmot head baseball coach summed it up perfectly as he left the Burlington Demons’ sectional final game at Kenosha Tremper to walk to his car June 5.

“You guys are going to win it again,” said Josh Pye, wearing a red Wilmot pullover. “It’s because of the coaching.”

What a nice compliment from a rival squad.

Of course, there’s Scott Staude, Tom Krause and pitching coach Bob Lee, but what about longtime city of Burlington baseball fan and former Catholic Central coach Donny Schultz.

The volunteer with the squad was around for the team’s sectional at Kenosha Tremper High School and officially named the team’s new friend “Hondo,” a ridiculous hard plastic mannequin that’s life-sized and apparently the team’s current good-luck charm.

“We had Rocco last year, and now this year Hondo,” said Burlington shortstop Riley Palmquist. “It just gives us confidence and energy.”

As the Demons left Alan Smith Field on the bus back home for Burlington around 8 p.m., Staude, the last one to get the bus full of waiting players, shouted “Where’s Hondo?”

“Donny calls players Hondo sometimes,” Staude said. “Our kids like to joke around with Donny. They dressed up a mannequin from Tremper yesterday and named him Hondo. The seniors are responsible for it.”

You guessed it, the Demons had him on the bus, clad with a Demon hat, conference championship T-shirt and white mesh shorts.

Minutes earlier, the guys were posing with the inanimate object for team pictures after their 6-3 sectional final victory.

According to assistant coach Karl Richter, plastic cups were used for Hondo’s arms, and the kids used a wooden baseball bat to help with measurements.

Superstition can be a big thing in baseball, and Hondo accompanied the Demons to state June 12.

Schultz confirmed “Hondo” was a nickname given to one of the greatest players he had seen play decades back at Catholic Central.

So when he tries to encourage players now, he simply says, “Let’s go, Hondo.”

 

Bob Lee earns game ball

As Staude got a breakdown with his crew after the state-clinching victory, he shouted out the seniors and playfully flipped the game ball to pitching coach Bob Lee, the 81-year-old former Major League pitcher and owner of the Kenosha Twins Minor League squad, who played at Simmons Field in Kenosha, the current home stadium of the Kenosha Kingfish.

Lee was the voice inside the heads of the Demons’ dominant pitching staff all season, and it paid off.

The staff ERA was below 2.0 for the entire season, and on Tuesday, Lee was in rare form, giving quality advice of “Don’t get too excited” and just “throw to the glove” while warming up Derek Koenen and Trey Krause in the bullpen late in game two.

“We’ve got Bob Lee Sr. as our pitching coach,” said senior Drew Pesick, when asked one reason why the Demons are going to state.

Furthermore, Trent Turzenski, the winning pitcher of the sectional final, lauded Lee’s tutelage when describing how he got out of a pivotal sixth-inning jam.

Lee, who has been with the team since the state title in 2016, has developed a reputation of mastering the mental game on the mound, continues to provide a positive influence to the Demons and cultivate a winning culture.

“Thank you, honey,” said Lee after the big win.

He said his late wife, who passed away in 2016, was once again looking down on the team and watching over everyone.

“Hondo,” a mannequin discovered in a dugout at Kenosha Tremper High School, became the Burlington baseball team’s good-luck charm and accompanied them to state in Appleton. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

A change in attitude

While senior contributors like Grant Tully, Pesick, Joe Tully and Riley Nelson are leaned on for their leadership and ability, don’t underestimate the young guys.

After an 8-6 start to the season, the Demons weren’t necessarily on the same page at times.

So junior Tucker Strommen was one of the first players to step up, as he verbally called himself out and told his guys he would be better in terms of leadership and chemistry moving forward.

Sophomore catcher Christian Brenner, affectionately called “Lumpy” by teammates, followed suit.

“When the season started, I thought I wasn’t going to get the spot because I was a sophomore,” said the 16-year-old left-handed slugger. “It doesn’t happen often. Once it happened, the connection is crazy and it doesn’t matter how old anyone is.”

Brenner said he called the pitches at sectionals for Krause and Turzenski, and Staude can obviously override any call.

With Krause, Brenner said his curve is amazing, and you have to be ready to hit the dirt.

Brenner said Lee noticed the chemistry wasn’t right early in the season. Lee didn’t mean the guys needed to have sleepovers every weekend, but they needed to act like a team on the field.

“I remember when we were together, and Tucker said we needed better chemistry,” Brenner said about a meeting before practice. “I went to the guys and apologized. I was doing bad with body language and had a certain attitude. I wasn’t handling myself the right way. I’ve been better since.”

“So really, everyone picked it up and the chemistry has been great since then.”

The guys quickly turned things around to the tune of 13 of 14 victories to end the season, a conference championship and a third consecutive trip to state.

 

 

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