Hey, how about them Huskies?
Some of our readers (specifically our non-Atlanta readers) may be getting sick of reading about the Huskies' baseball success this postseason. But if they've dominated our sports section lately its only because they so thoroughly dominated their Division 4 rivals this season before eventually falling in the quarterfinals.
This brush with success has to be a refreshing change of pace for Atlanta. The Huskies have had some success with sports in the past, but lately they've seemed to run into bad luck. The football team had to forfeit several wins this season, which kept them out of a playoff season they would have went to otherwise.
Coaching changes have also plagued the school in recent years as teams have struggled to find a consistent direction. These changes are an inevitable part of a changing program, but it's hard to build a successful team with constant coaching changes, even if a team has the raw talent possessed by Atlanta.
But the Atlanta baseball team seemed to coalesce into a machine this year under the coaching of Sean Barrett, who's consistent passion and understanding of the game helped give his team's raw talent a successful direction and a focus that gave them the drive they needed to make school history.
Any team that only loses three games all season, with the final loss coming in the quarterfinal playoffs, deserves the kind of attention and praise they have received. The Huskies were one of eight teams left in the state in their division and proved to have the depth that makes a team nearly untouchable.
But Atlanta is losing Garrett Badgero this year to the turning wheels of high school graduation. Badgero has been one of the biggest sources of success for Atlanta all season. He pitched for 10 innings in the regional final and helped shut down division rival Hillman in the districts, no small feat considering the Tigers success this season.
Badgero will go on to great things and Atlanta will have to reconfigure a little to make up for this loss. But how much will change with his departure?
The biggest aspect the Huskies have to replace is his pitching, but the Huskies have an ace-in-the-making with Jake Chambers. Chambers pitched a near shutout against Johannesburg-Lewiston in the district finals and will be back as a senior next season as a starter.
The Huskies will also keep pitcher Josh Barrett, who turned into such an asset in the regional final when his team needed him most. Any pitching void left by Badgero's departure can be dependably filled by these two.
But what of the other departing seniors? Atlanta is also losing right fielder Caleb Cumper and designated hitter Brock Baum, two important hitters who continually picked up key hits when it mattered most.
These are tough loses but left fielder Jacob Ross and center fielder Jay Webster aren't going anywhere any time soon. These fleet footed fielders had an instinct for getting in the right position and had strong arms to get the ball where it needed to go.
Any infield left in the hands of first baseman Larry Krzeminski, second baseman Kyle Klein, third baseman Jacob Dobbyn and shortstop Barrett is in good defensive hands.
Who can forget the diving catches made by Klein between first and second that turned a potential single into an easy out at first?
Or the how easily Krzeminski and Dobbyn fielded a vast majority of those easy throws to first and third? It may seem easy to field an infield throw but it takes a sense of calm and focus that Atlanta's infield continued to possess all season.
Perhaps most importantly, Atlanta will retain catcher Taylor Juergens who, in his own words, "turns into a wall" behind home and who never, ever seems to let a wild pitch get past his glove. This is a catcher that snagged several pop up flies in the regionals, including the sixth inning out that shut down a potential scoring opportunity from Norway to help Atlanta hold on to their win.
I fear I'm coming across as a heavy homer right now (though I originally hail from Hillman, a constant rival to Atlanta) and I am aware of the potential problems that Atlanta may face in the upcoming year.
Adjusting to a team without Badgero and Cumper won't be a completely easy task. Both were big hitters and important defense players that simply cannot be replaced.
Another problem that Atlanta may face next year is the element of surprise it possessed all year against opponents. What I mean by that is that Atlanta seemed to come out of nowhere to take on teams that knew little about them.
During the regional and quarterfinal games, I heard fans of opposing teams asking other fans where Atlanta was located. They could rarely accurately answer that question. The most precise answer I heard was "over by Alpena."
The worst was "I think it's in the UP."
That element of surprise worked to the Huskies' advantage this year: people didn't know what to expect beyond "they got a good pitcher." They didn't anticipate the depth of the Atlanta squad and may even have under estimated them.
However, Atlanta is now a team to beat for North Star League opponents like Hillman and Posen. Teams the Huskies faced in regionals and quarterfinals will now understand the Atlanta threat and will be able to prepare better.
But this advantage for Atlanta's opponents is a double-edged sword: Atlanta now has a taste of playoff success. The Huskies now know they can beat tough opponents that they would never have otherwise faced and know what it takes to beat those teams.
The baseball team now has some momentum it can use to build upon for next year and years after. The Atlanta coaching squad now knows what to focus on to get wins and fully understands the kind of plays and strategies that work best.
As long as the Huskies continue to have focus and direction, this is a team we should be hearing from for years to come.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.