GRAND CHUTE, Wis. — In a WIAA Division 3 state semifinal baseball game that could have gone either way, one stat stood out to Deerfield High School coach Tom Davey and slapped him in the face.
And it will be the one that will continue to eat away at the 1993 UW-La Crosse graduate until the Demons can get back to Fox Cities Stadium.
Westby beat Deerfield 2-1 on Wednesday because the Norsemen converted the scoring opportunities the Demons couldn’t.
As a result, Westby (21-4) plays Oconto (15-4) for the Division 3 championship today at noon.
“They got the leadoff batter on in two innings, they scored in two innings,” Davey said. “We got the leadoff batter on in two innings, we scored in one. That’s the difference.”
The one Deerfield (18-5) didn’t turn into a run was a killer, and the missed opportunity came after leadoff hitter Ben Hildebrandt led off the top of the fifth with a booming double to left.
But Deerfield couldn’t get down a bunt, which resulted in a strikeout, and a Cole Erickson single to left wasn’t enough for Davey to send Hildebrandt home.
“The ball doesn’t carry in this outfield,” Davey said. “I had to hold runners at third on singles I normally would have sent. To be honest, every ball that came in I felt I made the right choice by holding them.”
Westby pitcher Tyler Ihrcke got out of the jam by striking out Deerfield cleanup hitter Brandon Ehrke for the second time, then getting Zach Gross to ground out to short.
The play at first was close, but umpire AJ Minick ruled the play beat Gross. Davey, who argued between innings with Minick, didn’t want to comment.
“We can’t blame that,” Davey said. “They made the plays when they had to.”
Westby successfully executed sacrifice bunts in both of the innings it scored when Deerfield could not. Westby’s first run, which tied the game
at 1, came on a two-out single by senior Nick Schroeder after Deerfield committed the first of its two errors.
“We play good, quality competition,” Westby coach John Hamilton said. “We try to put ourselves in these situations. That’s one thing we talk about every day. We try to put ourselves in these situations, so when you get to a big game like this, you’ve been there in that spot.”
Deerfield left seven men on base. Five of them were left in scoring position.
“We just weren’t clutch,” Ehrke said. “We weren’t timely hitters. We just didn’t hit the ball when we needed to.”
OCONTO UP NEXT: Westby’s opponent in today’s championship game is no stranger to a close game. The Blue Devils rallied to beat Osseo-Fairchild 4-3 in eight innings in the other semifinal when junior Bryce Bostedt’s bases-loaded fly to right field was misplayed and scored senior Trent Mehlberg with the winning run.
Oconto also played an extra-inning game in the regional final, when it beat top-ranked Coleman 8-5 in 10 innings. The Blue Devils also edged Bonduel 1-0 in a sectional semifinal.
“They’re a resilient group,” Hamilton said. “They got down (3-0) to Osseo, and they battled back. They’re not going to quit. They’re used to winning. I expect it to be a great game.”
Oconto is a young team with just two seniors on the roster. Freshman Grant Frazer leads the team in hitting and threw all eight innings Wednesday, with two strikeouts and three walks.
“If we go out there and play how we can play, we should be fine,” Ihrcke said. “We’re a good team. We just have to play how we can.”
FLASHBACK TO 1997: Hamilton admitted he’s been reminiscing a bit to 1997, the last time Westby was at the baseball state tournament. It also was Hamilton’s first season as coach.
“You certainly think about it,” said Hamilton, who won his 270th game Wednesday. “You get messages from some of the guys who played back then. It certainly was a memorable year. It was a great year, and that team had some similarities to this team.”
Westby lost to Hortonville 20-12 in eight innings in the Division 2 championship game. That was the last time the tournament was held at Athletic Park in Wausau, Wis., before moving to the Appleton, Wis., area.
While Hamilton remembers that team, the current crop of Norsemen do not, and for good reason.
They were 2 or 3 years old.
“We heard stories about those guys,” Schroeder said. “But we don’t know many of them.”
AROUND THE HORN: Pitcher Mitchell Larson was warming up and would have entered the game if the leadoff batter reached in the top of the seventh. Instead, the second hitter reached, but Hamilton chose to let Ihrcke finish the game anyway. Larson should get the start today against Oconto. … Westby won its 15th straight game. … If Westby wins today, it will be the first current Coulee Conference team to win a spring state title.
G-E-T won a summer state title in 1968.