by Marlys Kruger, Messenger Sports
Elk Mound native and 2001 UW-Stout graduate Brad O’Connell was one of five athletes inducted into the University’s 2012 Athletic Hall of Fame last fall.
O’Connell played baseball for the Blue Devils from 1997-2001 and was a two-time first team all Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) and All Region player. He is the only Blue Devil baseball player to earn first team All America honors when he led the country in batting average at .524 in 2001 and was the WIAC player of the year. He ended the 2001 season with 12 homeruns and a slugging percentage of .984. He had a 37 game hitting streak that began in the 2000 season and carried over to the 2001 season which is still the longest hitting streak in WIAC history.
[ememebr_protected] Careerwise, O’Connell owns the school record for highest batting average at .422 and slugging average at .810. (He held the school record for triples with nine until his younger brother Brandon surpassed it with 10 in the 2008-2011 seasons). He currently is tied for the most homeruns at Stout with 30 and is second all time in stolen bases with 43. He also showed his versatility in the field, starting as a third baseman his freshman year, moving to shortstop his sophomore year, center field as a junior and played pretty much second base as a senior.
“I really didn’t plan on playing college baseball,” O’Connell said. “I had gotten a few letters from colleges from far away to play but I wasn’t interested in leaving the area. I was going to go to CVTC but my high school coach Scot Miller asked Stout coach Terry Petrie to come and watch me play and after several phone calls from him, he convinced me to go to Stout. I was red shirted my first year then I played three years for him and my senior year Joe Vavra took over as head coach.”
O’Connell spent a lot of time working on his hitting in those years.
“I think I wore out the batting cages,” he said. “The WIAC was very competitive and we had some good seasons. We went to Fort Meyers, FL every year for spring training and I have great memories of those years with my teammates. And being named an All American really topped off my college career,” he added.
High school days
Before those college years, O’Connell played four years of varsity ball for Elk Mound from 1992-1996 and was a big part of some pretty successful teams. During his freshman year, the team won the sectional title and played at state under coach Mark Traun, losing their first game 4-1 to Potosi. As a pitcher and infielder his sophomore year under new head coach Miller, O’Connell pitched a four hitter in a 3-0 shutout in the sectional final win over Cameron to send the Mounders back to state. Facing a tough Spencer team in the first round, O’Connell came in the game as a reliever in the third inning and held the Spencer team scoreless, but the Mounders lost 6-4. O’ Connell was named second team All Conference as an infielder as the team finished the season with a 16-3 record.
1995, his junior year, was quite a story for O’Connell and the Mounders as they won the regional, sectional and state championship. It was (and still is) the first team state championship in any sport for Elk Mound High School. With another tough pitcher on the team, that being Cheyenne Janke, the Mounders had a pretty good 1-2 punch. After O’Connell threw a three hitter with 10 strikeouts in a 4-2 win in the sectional semi-final win over Flambeau, Janke (who went on to play minor league baseball) earned the win over Cameron to send the Mounders back to state.
Coach Miller flip-flopped his pitchers at state and Janke pitched a one hitter in a 5-1 win in the opening game against Sevastopol. Not to be outdone, O’Connell carried a no hitter into the seventh inning in the championship game against Spencer.
“I was one out away from a no hitter,” he said “But we won the game 5-0 and that’s what really counted. It was a great feeling for our team. We worked hard and had a lot of support from the school and the community,” he added.
Senior year turned out to be a little disappointing for O’Connell and the Mounders. After beginning the season by pitching a no hitter at the Metrodome in Minneapolis against their pesky rivals Colfax in which Derick Hainstock was the losing pitcher for the Vikings, the tables were turned in the regional championship game as Colfax beat the Mounders 8-1. O’Connell took the loss while Hainstock earned the win and the Vikings went on to win the sectional and play at state.
“Brad was what I called a real competitor,” Miller said. “The bigger the game, the better he played. Whether it was on the mound, playing shortstop or in the batter’s box, he could always come up with a big play. He was one of those kids who led by example. I was sure if he became stronger, he could play college ball and he hit the weight room after high school and proved me right.”
O’Connell remembers his high school playing days fondly.
“We had some big games over the years against Colfax and all the other conference teams,” he said. “ My whole four years playing high school ball was fun. We had a state championship team reunion a few years ago so it was great talking to my former teammates.”
O’Connell’s baseball playing days did not end after he left Stout. Vavra resigned his coaching position after one year and took a job coaching in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system (he had played in the system before coming to Stout). Vavra saw a possible future for O’Connell in baseball and he found a place for him on the Dodgers minor league team in Great Falls, MT. He played there one season, then played in the Florida Fall League and was invited to Dodger spring training the next year, but was eventually cut from the team.
With a degree in Industrial Technology, O’Connell moved back to the area and now works in Eau Claire. He continues to be active in baseball from another perspective, coaching his nine year old son’s Little League team.
“It’s a way to keep involved with a sport I have loved since I was a kid,” he said. “Now if we could get it to stop raining and snowing we could get some playing in,” he said with a laugh.