By Vern Cahak
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Antigo High School’s most successful baseball season in school history, from the standpoint of winning percentage.
The 1966 Red Robins won their first 14 games and were on the brink of a state tournament appearance and possibly an undefeated season. But those aspirations were shattered by a devastating 1-0 loss to Oconto Falls in the sectional tournament opener. Still, Antigo’s 14-1 record and .933 victory percentage were the school’s best ever.
Dick Bilse was coach of that historic team, which included some familiar names, Joe “Smokey” Kretz, Dennis Preboski and Charlie Kirsch, who remain Antigonians. Kretz was an outstanding shortstop, Preboski was an outfielder and Kirsch a pitcher. All were good hitters at the plate.
The starting lineup also included catcher Mike Kretz, first baseman Gary Dobbs, second baseman Mike Vanden Avond, third baseman Duane Rogatski and outfielders Larry Hoerman and Dan Waldvogel.
At mid-season, the Robins of ’66 were rolling along with a 6-0 record. On May 6, Mark Adams and Kirsch combined for a no-hitter in a 4-0 victory over Medford. Adams hurled the first four innings and Kirsch the last three.
In the next two games, Rhinelander came dangerously close to ending Antigo’s unbeaten streak. In the first game, the Robins rallied from a 3-1 deficit with two runs in the sixth inning and won the game, 4-3, in the seventh when Smokey Kretz led off with a double and scored the winning run on Vanden Avond’s triple. A few days later, Antigo again edged the Hodags, 2-1, in nine innings behind the two-hit pitching of Mike Turecek.
The Robins went on to clinch the Wisconsin Valley Conference Northern Division championship with a 5-3 victory over Merrill and won the overall league title beating Southern Division champion Wisconsin Rapids, 5-1, in 10 innings.
In WIAA District tournament play, the Red Robins routed small schools Florence, 12-1, White Lake, 16-4, and Crandon, 7-0, behind the combined two-hit pitching of Turecek and Adams. They went on to whip Rhinelander, 12-4, in a district playoff game.
Then came that fateful 1-0 loss to Oconto Falls in the sectional to end that memorable season.