Doffek Prepares to Lead Team Ahead

Doffek Prepares to Lead Team Ahead

By Ken Ryan

In baseball, it’s not unheard of to come out of nowhere and have a good season or maybe two. The real challenge is maintaining success once you’ve reached the summit.

That was the charge given to Milwaukee Panthers head coach Scott Doffek in 2007 when he took over for Jerry Augustine, a man he assisted for 12 years.

“I feel like it’s still the same role,” said Doffek, now in his fourth year at the helm. “It’s satisfying to see how the program has grown so much over the years.”

Augustine, a former workmanlike left-handed pitcher who sported a 4.23 earned run average for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1975-84, and Doffek essentially worked in tandem to help the program reach new heights since the two were brought in back in 1995.

From ’95 to ‘06, the Panthers had five 30-win seasons, a run that included regular season conference crowns in 2000 and ’01 and NCAA Tournament Appearances in ’99, ’01 and ’02. Augustine was named league coach of the year three times, a testament not only to his leadership but also Doffek’s, who oversaw the program’s day-to-day operations and served as the lead recruiter.

“Taking 30 Wisconsin kids down to Lubbock, Tex. and defeating No. 1-ranked Rice University 8-4 was my proudest moment with the program,” said Doffek of the club’s thrilling win in the ’99 NCAA Tournament.

After Augustine stepped aside in ‘06, the choice for his successor was easy.

“Scotty has been here a long time and is a perfect fit,” said Chris Zills, Sports Information Director.

After Doffek posted a 16-14 Horizon League record in his first year as the head man in’07, he took a fifth-place team to the league championship game in ’08 before finishing second in regular season play a year ago, a finish that helped the Hartland, Wis. native earn his own Horizon League Coach of the Year honor.

But is 2010 the year the Panthers put an end to their NCAA Tournament drought, now at seven years and counting?

“We’re heading in the right direction,” Doffek said of his club, who at the time of this article’s writing is second in the Horizon League with a 9-6 record, 2.5 games behind first place Wright State, and 20-19 overall. “We’re playing the best baseball we’ve played all year.”

The Panthers have ten league games to play, including a crucial three game set against Wright State in Ohio in early May. (For the most up-to-date standings and results, visit www.HorizonLeague.org) Milwaukee would love at least a top-two regular season finish as it’d give the Panthers a first round bye in the league tournament that begins May 26.

While Doffek would obviously love to guide his team back to the top of the Horizon League and into the NCAA Tournament, those aren’t the lone metrics he uses in gauging the program’s performance year in, year out.

“We graduate virtually all of our players and have sent about 30 men on to play professionally,” says Doffek, who himself played five seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system. He notes that seniors Tim Patzman, Ben Long and Dan Buchholz could be drafted this June along with junior Doug Dekonig.

Like many Panther pro prospects before, the latest candidates can swing the bat. Doffek has been the primary hitting instructor since ’95 and under his tutelage, the Panthers are perennially are amongst league leaders in team batting statistics.

Along with hitting, Dekonig notes that Doffek has helped the Panthers manage the game psychologically.

“Coach Doffek has brought a winning attitude to Milwaukee and pushes us to take another step not only with our physical abilities but our mental capacity,” he says. “Baseball is a very mental game and Coach Doffek has done a good job at teaching us how to control and manage our emotions.”

Moving forward, Doffek testifies that a facilities upgrade with be vital to the program’s long-term success. The club’s situation at Henry Aaron Field, a diamond two-plus miles from campus that wouldn’t meet many high school standards, has been described as “less than ideal” on more than one occasion by Panthers brass.

Major uncertainty remains where a new facility would be erected given the university’s lack of land area. And with Athletic Director George Koonce – a noted baseball program ally who awarded Doffek with a three-year contract extension in June ‘09 – being placed on administrative leave by the university, there are major questions about the leadership direction of the entire UWM athletic department.

But one thing is for certain – an upgrade will be needed to help keep Wisconsin’s top high school talent in the state to play for its lone Division One baseball program.

“We’re trying to make the best out of a tough situation,” Doffek says. “Wisconsin isn’t as fruitful as southern states at producing top recruits. One of the only ways you can keep those kids here is with nice facilities. That will be the key down the road.”

There’s no doubt Panther players believe the right man is in place to lead Milwaukee ahead.

“In a few years I see the program at the top of the Horizon League year in and year out and competing in the NCAA Regionals,” said Dekoning. “Scotty has taken the program to a higher level and we expect it to take another jump in the near future.”
 

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