RIPON — The Markesan prep baseball team has five seniors who will end their high school baseball careers at the WIAA state tournament this week.

The trip to Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute is kind of a full-circle experience for Shane Ryan and Craig Plagenz, who were on the Hornets’ 2016 state team. Ryan was the team’s starting shortstop as a freshman, while Plagenz was called up from JV for the postseason.

But three more Markesan seniors will be making their state tournament debut when Markesan meets Ozaukee in a Division 3 semifinal today. First baseman Tristan Dillie thinks it’s awesome to play at Fox Cities Stadium because “not many people have gotten to this moment.”

“I think it’s pretty cool that we got there, especially because not that many people thought we were going to make it this far,” Dillie said. “We weren’t picked to be a favorite. It was between St. Mary’s Catholic, Iola and Prairie du Chien. It feels awesome to finally be the underdogs and make it this far.”

Senior Landon Leedle said he likes that he’s going to be able to say he finished his baseball career on the grandest of stages. He’s not planning on playing in college and Markesan doesn’t have a senior American Legion program this season, so this is it for him.

“I’ve been there to watch others, but as a team member, this will be a first experience,” Leedle said. “It’s going to be awesome. It’s great we get to do it as a team. It’s a big family atmosphere. We all get along so well.”

And senior backup first baseman Joey Paddock said the family atmosphere is what he will remember the most about his time as a Hornet.

“We’re always focused on the game,” Paddock said, “but we’re trying to stay positive for the most part.”

Leedle agreed: “I like how that team and this team are able to joke and have fun, but when things need to get done we know to put that to the side and we get the work we need done.

“But we’re joking, loose and ready to go.”

Sophomore pitcher on fire

Bryce Leedle has had a tremendous sophomore campaign for the Hornets, proving to be a more than able complement to Ryan on the hill.

Leedle is 7-0 on the season and has thrown two no-hitters. He has a 0.46 ERA and is second on the team with 73 strikeouts.

“He came out of the woodwork,” said Landon Leedle, Bryce’s older brother.

Landon said former coach Jason Breaker pitched Bryce in two games last season, setting the foundation of what was to come this season.

But all along, Landon knew his younger brother would dominate once he got a chance.

“I’ve seen his pitching over the years,” Landon said. “He’s been a step above (in youth baseball). He’d hop on the mound and throw his two innings and face six batters and then he’d be done. He would blow the ball right past them and they couldn’t deal with it.”

Bryce also has a strong stick at the plate. He is fourth on the team with a .356 batting average and has six doubles, a triple and nine RBIs.

“He doesn’t like to be known as just a pitcher,” Landon said. “I would say his biggest strength is despite being a shutdown pitcher like he has been, he puts in the work and wants to be a hitter and a fielder.”

Team clown

Every team has one player who gets the team either ready to go or keeps them relaxed during the game.

For the Hornets, Ryan said it’s sophomore first baseman and pitcher Gavin Gilbertson.

“When Gavin gets going and yells ‘Oop’ to open up his jokes, we get pretty pumped up in the dugout,” Ryan said. “He’s the pump-up kid.”

Gilbertson has also been a contributor on the mound for the Hornets. He’s pitched in nine games with 13 strikeouts and has given up 10 runs, four earned, off of 14 hits and nine walks.

He also has a .250 batting average with seven hits and eight RBIs.

None were bigger than the two-run single he had against Lake Mills Lakeside Lutheran in last Tuesday’s sectional semifinal that gave the Hornets the lead and eventually a 6-1 victory.

“Also, Gavin coming in the clutch in a couple of games for us,” Dillie said.

Follow Mark McMullen on Twitter @mmcmull2 or contact him at 920-356-6754.

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