Wolverines battle Wildcats in late season close contest

Mike Wieting

CRIVITZ- One run down. Three innings to go. The Lena Wildcats eyeing a knock down of the second place Wolverines, hungry for a win, coming off a three game skid that has seen some close matches. The Wolverines standing firm off a three game run that has seen some double digit run totals. Would the Wildcats be able to pull off the upset? Thursday night in Crivitz the cards of the final hand just didn’t have what it took, as the Wolverines held strong with a closing effort from Stephen Allard to bag their fourth consecutive win and shut the door on the Wildcats.

That Thursday night showdown was one close call, stranded runners, big outfield catches, and some big time plays as the Wolverines improved their season readout to 9-3 with their 2-1 win over the visiting Wildcats.

“I thought we pitched this one well and played defense well,” said Crivitz coach Jeff Dorschner. “But our offense was a little lacking today. Especially looking back at the productivity we have been getting as of late. We may have taken a small step back today offensively but I have to give credit to Graef. I thought he did a phenomenal job out there today. He really kept his guys in the game and kept us off balance just enough. He had great defense behind him today too.”

Lena who has found themselves sitting on the M&O conference cellar stairs looking up, have had the door closed on them multiple times this season. There was the April 16th loss to the St. Thomas Aquinas Cavaliers 6-5, followed by the 4-3 loss to the Rangers. The Rangers also handed them a close two run loss on May 6th. And now the 2-1 loss to the Wolverines, just a handful of runs during those games have held the 4-7 Wildcats from being an 8-3 team. There have been some high points to this team’s season as well. There was a season opening blowout over the GB New Lutheran Blazers 10-0 and knocking off of then second place Niagara in an April 26th double header which saw Lena win 4-3 in both games. Any way you cut it, these Wildcats were on the edge of greatness all season long.

“The story of our season has really been about if we can just capitalize, we are a pretty darn good ball team”, said Lena head coach Mike Nompleggi. “But when we wait till the last second that’s when things become a bit of a struggle for us. I’m hopping by the time we get to the conference tournament or regionals we can turn all this around. We have enough pitching to stick with anybody. We get rid of those big innings and a couple little mistakes and  we are going to be a tough team to beat.”

The Wolverines on the other hand have seen a steady rise to the top of the M&O standings as they have continually found a way to get the “W” through a season of huge conference wins. But when faced with the Conference champion Coleman Cougars, the Wolverines came up just a little short, dropping the first meeting 6-3, and the second 5-3. Again a team that found themselves sitting on the cusp.

Thursday night these two contenders met for their last showdown of the season and they both looked to be in great post season form. Were it not for an unfortunate balk committed by the Wildcats in the 3rd inning, the game may have found itself in extra innings, were who knows what could have transpired.

“That’s a team that has dropped some games in conference this year but they have all been CLOSE,” said Dorschner. “They are no joke, Mike has done a really nice job with that team. They just have had a little trouble closing out and we were fortunate today to have a few things bounce our way. We got them to flinch a little today but I did not think that was what was going to be the deciding factor.”

Lena showed a flash of brilliance during the fifth inning when Caleb Schlosser scooped a grounder hit toward second and tagged the base for an out before quickly turning and connecting with Anthony Seefeldt at first base for a double play to end the inning.

The Wildcats nearly scored first during the opening inning as Colt Miller singled, advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Logan Greaf and then went to third off a passed ball. Were it not for some tough mound play by Wolverine pitcher Pierce Polomis, who struck out the fourth hitter of the lineup, the Wildcats may have scored the game’s first run.

But it would be Crivitz who scored first, taking early control in the bottom of the first as Tegan Werner singled, advanced on a JJ Brand single, slipped to third off one of Lena’s four errors on the night, and then scored off a deep sacrifice fly to left field by Colten Tarmann.

Polomis had a strong showing in the games second inning striking out two, helping to keep the Wildcats from getting an early rhythm going.

The Wolverines’ Walter Laguna Herrera opened the second inning for the Wolverines with decent swat to left field, good enough for a single before advancing after a throw went wide at first, giving him an opening to sprint to second.

Wildcat Pitcher Logan Graef dug his heels in and pitched his way out of the inning, striking out three to close the inning.

Lena made contact with their next three hitters during the third with all shots unable to find a way through the defense. Schlosser grounded out to short while Ty Shallow and Miller were out off fly balls to center and center left respectively.

Then came the bottom of the third, and with it the nights biggest difference maker. Logan Marvin led off the inning for the Wolverines and reached on an error after the ground ball fielded by the short stop went wild over the first basemen’s head. Lena’s third error of the game would prove to be very costly two hitters from that moment.

Colten Tarmann flew out to center in the next at bat before Kaden Klaver walked in the following at bat. With Marvin sitting on third base and Polomis standing at the plate, Klaver showed signs of a steal. Graef began his pitching motion and then swung around to throw out an advancing Klaver. The umpire called the action off and announced a balk had occurred effectively sending Klaver to second and Marvin home to the plate. That second run by the Wolverines would be the last of the game for Crivitz, proving to be a fatal mistake in the long run. After the balk the Wolverines were in control 2-0.

Lena narrowed the lead and gave themselves a serious chance at a comeback during the fourth inning when Garef led off the inning with a base off a dropped third strike passed ball. He stole second in the next at bat before going to third on a wild pitch. Thanks to a Dane Comins’ sacrifice hit, Graef took back the run he gave the inning prior making it home and giving the game a 2-1 score.

When the Wildcats returned to the plate in the fifth they found themselves threatening a second run and tying run when Blake Behnke singled. Tyler Shallow walked next followed by Graef two hitters later who walked to load the bases with two outs. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the deep shot by Seefeldt found its way in the glove of a Wolverine fielder to end the inning.

Lena pulled off that aforementioned double play to get out off the fifth inning and then ran into some solid closing pitching by Wolverine Stephen Allard, who allowed no hits over the next six Lena batters to end the game.

The pitching win was recorded by Polomis who allowed three hits, one run and three walks while striking out four over his five innings. Allard who bagged the save allowed no hits or runs while walking one and striking out one.

“Credit to Pirece today he has really been playing strong as of late,” said Dorschner. “And Allard has been rock solid in relief pitching for us this year and closing the door by just throwing strikes. I’ve been very happy with the way he has been pitching this season. This is a young team that needs to dig and find creative ways to win. Earlier in the year we may have let this game slip away but now we are showing a little more maturity. These guys are always getting better. I knew it would take a little time. This is a group that loves to play and they are going to continue to get better. It’s just nice to see them, at the varsity level, mature this season.”

Lena’s Graef pitched six innings for the Wildcats allowing just two hits and two runs while walking four. He had six strike outs.

“I think we could have definitely been little higher in the standings than we are,” said Nompleggi. “The thing is with these guys is that they are still learning a lot of baseball this year. We have two freshman starting and that’s tough, especially with some of our guys like our third basemen, who hasn’t played baseball in two years and our first basemen, who was a track athlete last year, and he comes in and hasn’t missed a single game. They both have just been phenomenal along with our DH who hardly played the last two years and now he’s stepping into a role where he feels comfortable. It’s just great to see them all doing so well. If we can just build off our baseball intuition, we have great coaches that have played a lot of baseball with a high baseball IQ, so it’s just about getting these kids to understand and getting to know the game even better.



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