Local coach, players boost fortunes of MATC baseball
Stormers just miss World Series berth
After six seasons as the Milwaukee Area Technical College baseball coach, Frank Cimorelli can reflect back upon the struggles of his first year.
"We had just 12 players on the roster," Cimorelli said. "We had to borrow a basketball player (to help fill out the team)."
Cimorelli, who was the head coach at Wauwatosa West High School before coming to MATC in 2007, looks back at those humble beginnings from the current vantage point of success.
His 2012 squad put together the school's best season in history, coming within one victory of advancing to the Junior College World Series in Tyler, Texas.
"There was not a lot of respect for the program (at the beginning)," Cimorelli said. "I knew this would be a five- to 10-year building process. We have come a long way."
Whole roster of help
MATC was helped by a number of local players, including Michael Monfre of Menomonee Falls, who graduated from Marquette High School; Bobby Widenski of Oak Creek, Brandon Helt of Franklin, Brad Leachy of Brookfield Central, Mike Robinson of Muskego, Anthony Urbaniak of St. Francis; and Eric Marlowe of South Milwaukee.
Cimorelli said Monfre was the Stormers' starting catcher for the past two seasons. Last year, he caught every single inning.
"He was a team leader for us," the coach said. "He really came on strong at the end, and he did a good job of handling our pitching staff."
Widenski hit in either the first or second lineup spot this season and paced MATC in hits with 55 for a .327 average. He made the all-region team in each of his two seasons.
"He was a sparkplug for us," Cimorelli said. "He would get on base and would score (40 runs this season)."
Helt started at five different positions in his two years with the Stormers, mostly in the infield.
"His versatility was extremely important to us," the coach said.
Robinson also saw some time in the leadoff spot and led the Stormers in average at .338. He compiled an on-base percentage of .460 and stole 15 bases, both of which helped ignite the MATC attack.
"He was one of our better hitters, and he played a strong outfield," Cimorelli said.
Leachy started out the season as a relief pitcher but soon earned a spot in the starting rotation and was solid there, Cimorelli said.
"He compiled a 4-1 record and was dominant at times," the coach said.
Urbaniak moved from first base to right field this season, handling the change well, and was the team's hottest hitter in the final two weeks, batting .486 in MATC's seven tournament games.
"He could drive the ball to all fields, and he led us in stolen bases with 17," Cimorelli said.
All of these players pitched in as the Stormers overcame a 1-6 start to finish 22-23 in the regular season.
"In the beginning of the year (early March), we went right from the gym to the field, which all cold-weather teams have to do," Cimorelli said. "There was an adjustment. Things all came together after that. The guys started to gain some confidence, and they knew they could win games."
A learning experience
Since MATC is just a two-year school, all the players are either freshmen or sophomores, and this season, the Stormers had just five sophomores on the roster.
"A lot of freshmen needed to mature, and they needed to do it quickly," Cimorelli said. "The 1-6 start was a good learning experience."
The key game came on April 25 at Elgin (Ill.) The contest was tied at 6-6, and Elgin had the bases loaded with none out in the 10th inning.
Urbaniak caught a fly ball in the outfield and threw quickly to home plate to cut down one runner. Catcher Monfre then whipped the ball to third to catch another runner for a triple play. Thus inspired, the Stormers scored in the 13th to win, 7-6.
MATC played particularly well in the final three weeks of the season and headed into the tournament with a good deal of confidence. In their sectional, the Stormers split their first two games and needed to beat Harper College (Ill.) twice to advance. They did so with victories of 11-4 and 11-10.
So close in regional
That sent them to the regional to take on Joliet Junior College in a best-of-three series, with the winner going on to the World Series.
MATC won the first contest, 9-7, but lost the second, 18-2, to set up the deciding game. The Stormers held an early 5-0 lead but fell behind 10-5 after five innings. They came within 12-11 in the ninth and had a runner on third with one out, but the game ended with a popup and strikeout.
Joliet, a traditional power, went on to claim the championship.
"It was great that we at least came back," Cimorelli said. "We could have folded, but we battled back."
Cimorelli said the tournament run will help for next season, when MATC returns the majority of its roster.
"There will be some pressure now, but we are looking forward to it," he said. "Now the players know what they can do. We can compete for a championship, but the road goes through Joliet."
The local players who were sophomores are now headed to four-year schools. Monfre is going to Truman State (Mo.), Widenski to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Helt to Cardinal Stritch and Urbaniak to Robert Morris of Chicago.
They will carry with them memories of the successful 2012 season, when the program that could barely field a team six years ago grew up into prominence.
"It was a fun season," Cimorelli said. "It was great to watch the improvement and see the players gain in confidence."
Here are the season statistics for the local players on the MATC baseball team:
MIKE ROBINSON: He led the team in batting average at .338 with nine extra-base hits, 39 runs scored and 26 runs batted in
TONY URBANIAK: He batted .333 with 12 extra-base hits, including three home runs, leading the team in runs scored (42) and RBIs (43). He also paced the Stormers in stolen bases (17)
BOBBY WIDENSKI: He topped the team in hits with 55, batting .327 with 12 extra-base hits, 40 runs scored and 16 RBIs
BRANDON HELT: He collected 53 hits for a .323 average with 12 extra-base hits, 29 runs and 31 RBIs
MIKE MONFRE: He batted .240 with 18 runs and 21 RBIs
BRAD LEACHY: He was 4-1 on the mound with a 4.73 earned-run average, working 40 innings with 27 strikeouts and 10 walks
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