After a one-year break, the Merrill Baseball Hall Of Fame returned in 2015 with a new twist.
Rather than holding an elaborate banquet the way it did for its first four years through 2013, the group has gone back to the basics and incorporated it into last weekend’s American Legion Post 46 Invitational. Inductees were honored between the two games played on Friday night and threw out pitches to kick off the second game between Merrill and Holmen.
The list of inductees is strong, varied and extensive – from the Merrill Rangers’ Al Hehling, to three of the best players in MHS history in pitcher Steve Imhoff and hitters Craig Josiger and Jordan Stine, to the 1991 state champion Merrill Rangers team, to recently-retired MHS coach Brian Artac.
Hehling was known as a pitching and hitting threat for the semi-pro Rangers (who won state titles in 1951, ’52 and ’53) and as a prodigious umpire. He also coached American Legion ball. He put up stellar numbers for the Rangers near the end of their heyday with pitching contributions in 1956 (5-0), 1957 (6-3), 1958 (2-3), and 1960-62. Records were sketchy of the team in 1960-62 after it didn’t play in 1959, but it was noted during the 1962 season that he had a .308 batting average and was an Valley League All Star selection.
The 1991 Rangers captured the WBA Championship with Manager Bill Helmuth and players Rick Bonnell, Kevin Golisch, Jason Krueger, Shawn Schultz, Kent Reinhardt, Bill Boyd, Mike Schielke, Chad Krueger, Mark Hassel, Mike Helmuth, Steve Hintze, Chad Meyer, Jeff Beyer, Scott Wright and Brant Westberg.
Stine posted the highest single season batting average of .515 in 2005, and was a First Team All-Valley pick in 2003 and ’05 as well as being the Valley Player of the Year in ’05. He also picked up First Team All-State that year, and helped the American Legion Post 46 team to a state championship. A knee injury impeded his junior campaign. He continued excellent play into his college career at UW-Whitewater, where the centerfielder was a four-time WIAC All Conference choice, and NCAA All-District First Team in 2010 and Second Team in 2006, ’07 and ‘08. He bounced back from a shoulder injury in 2009 to hit .379 with 48 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 2010 as the Warhawks reached the NCAA D3 Sweet 16. Whitewater was one of the top teams in NCAA D3 in those years, reaching the World Series in 2008 and grabbing three WIAC titles in Stine’s four years. He was part of a string of five consecutive home runs in a game, and was named to the WIAC 100-year anniversary All-Time Baseball Team. He is also #2 on the all-time scoring list for MHS basketball and was a two-time First Team All-Valley choice.
Imhoff posted an 20-6 career MHS record with 1.45 ERA in 169 innings pitched. He was 7-1 as a sophomore and 8-1 as a senior. He pitched two games in WIAA State Tournaments (1974 & 1976) and won them both.
Josiger is the current MHS career doubles leader, and second to Alex Cordova with a .472 career batting average, ended in 1988. For over 20 years, the shortstop held career or single-season records for batting average, hits, RBI and doubles. The two-time First Team All-Valley selection drew heavy interest from many college programs, as well as MLB scouts. Craig also won the 145 pound WIAA wrestling title his senior year compiling a 34-1 record after placing 6th as a junior.
Artac coached in Merrill for 39 years, with 18 as the JV mentor and 16 at the helm of the varsity, posting a 195-167 record overall. His teams reached the sectional finals in 2001, 2005 and 2010. The Bluejays punched a ticket for state in ’10, losing a 2-1 heartbreaker to eventual champion Bay Port that was the game of the tourney. He was a two-time conference coach of the year and earned the WBCA State Assistant Coach of the Year in 1999. He was the District 2 selection in both 1999 and 2011. He is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Merrill Baseball Association since 1999.