To have a "professional hitter" on one high school team is unusual. To have two of them is a gift.
For the last three seasons New Berlin West baseball coach Tom Farina has been fortunate to coach first baseman Andrew Knoll and shortstop Allen Peil.
Knoll, a senior, will be attending Carthage College in the fall, where he will be continuing with the other sport he excels at — golf. But Peil is only a junior and will return one more season to hold down the shortstop spot and key the Vikings offense.
When referring to a player as a 'professional' hitter, it has to do with his approach at the plate. There is more than taking a bat to the plate and swinging at the baseball — a lot more.
Farina gushed with complements about both his hitters, who each made the 2014 Now All-Suburban Baseball team unanimously for the second straight season.
"I spoke to a number of people recently (about Knoll) being one of the better high school hitters I have seen," Farina said. "He knows the strike zone. He doesn't swing at bad pitches. He never chases.
"When he would have two strikes, he would slap it foul, waiting for a good pitch. He was the best mistake hitter I ever had."
Knoll said he didn't like going deep into the count if he didn't have to.
"I'm always looking first pitch fastball; depending on the pitcher," he said. "Most hitters aren't ready to swing at the first pitch. Then once they get their pitch, they're not ready to hit it.
"I pick a spot in the middle and hit it when it comes. I work one pitch at a time. I've had a good knowledge of the strike zone since I played at U13.
Knoll made the All-Woodland Conference first team once again this season, batting .446 with a .532 on base average and a .723 slugging mark in 22 games. Of his hits, 45 percent were for extra bases, as he only struck out twice in 65 at bats.
"He's a wonderful hitter," Farina summed up.
Farina can't say enough about Peil, who has been on the varsity since his freshman year.
"I think he is one of the best-kept secrets in high school baseball in the state," the veteran coach said. "He struggled early, trying to do too much. He tried to carry the load. I told him 'Just be Allen Peil.'"
'Just being Allen Peil' is a good thing for the Vikings. The junior talked about his approach at the plate.
"It's all about how the pitchers work me," he said. "I work the count. How I view the situation changes with the count. Every 2-0 count, if I get an inside pitch I try to pull it. If there are runners on first and second, I'll try and push the ball and move the runners over. I have a plan every time I go to the plate."
He batted .425 with a .530 OBA and a .687 slugging mark. He scored 24 runs and drove in 25 in 28 games. Of his 34 hits, 16 were for extra bases (47 percent).
After winning the 2013 WIAA State Baseball Championship but losing their top three pitchers, the Vikings knew 2014 would be a tough season with all the new faces.
"It was rough at first," Knoll said. "There was a little bit of nerves with the younger kids. They didn't know how difficult it was to step up to the varsity level. It's a completely different mind-set and competition.
"But we started turning things around and it showed at the end of the season."
Peil agreed with Knoll, but there was a positive for him when it came to playing with this group.
"I knew it would be tough; you can't replace some of the players we lost," he said. "But the underclassmen continued to work. They had the talent. It was fun for me. Some of new guys, I know better now and some of them were in my (junior) class and we got to play together again."
Although both Knoll and Peil were known for their hitting, their defense was another big part of their success.
"He was not only not big (6-feet, 4 inches), but he was a good defender," Peil said about Knoll. "You can't ask for much better. It's going to be hard to have him leave. He has been great."
Farina agrees and Knoll's numbers support his comments.
"He has had only one error each of the last two season," Farina pointed out. "Who knows how many saves he made and saved other's errors.
"His size gives you a false sense of security. The short-hop play, he does it with ease. He is a very, very good baseball player."
Farina also had some big-time praise for Peil.
"He made some plays against Greenfield this year that you don't see many shortstops make," he recalled.
But Peil admits the slow roller is the toughest play for him to make. But his answer on the ball to his right in the hole is surprising.
"I love to make that play," he said. "It's my favorite one."
Whereas Knoll's competitive playing career is over, Peil is already thinking ahead to next season and what he wants to work on.
"Defense," he said. "I just want to be a human vacuum cleaner. I want the ball, I want to make the play. At the plate, I want to work on hitting the breaking ball, seeing it out of the pitcher's hand.
"I going out to the field now, two to three times a week to work on my field and I'm going to hitting places and work on my batting."
Knoll will miss baseball, especially the chemistry that the 2013 state champs had.
"I love baseball the team atmosphere," he said. "The teams here have been a family to me; coach Farina, coach (Mike) Neulens. Last year the team chemistry was something. All my best friends were on the team. I will miss it.
"But I think I can do some damage in the golf world past college. It will be fun."
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