VIROQUA — The Panthers got the run. The Blackhawks did not.
It was that simple Tuesday at the Park Bowl, as Viroqua High School found itself on the wrong end of a 1-0 WIAA Division 2 baseball sectional semifinal played in a light drizzle.
“That’s what we figured it would be,” Viroqua coach Pete Swanson said. “A one-run game.”
It was a game that featured two of Western Wisconsin’s premier left-handed pitchers, although both went about their business in different ways.
Viroqua junior Mitch Stalsberg pounded the strike zone with 80 mph fastballs, mixing in offspeed pitches every now and then. Ellsworth senior James Georgakas, headed to Division II Northern State University next year, kept the Blackhawks uncomfortable from the first pitch with a variety of breaking stuff and the occasional well-placed fastball.
The difference? A two-out, seeing-eye single from Ellsworth’s Dennis Schutz in the bottom of the third that scored Dan Giese. It got through the infield because Viroqua shortstop Tyler Gabrielson was over just a bit in an attempt to keep Giese closer to second base.
He couldn’t get over in time. The ball went in to left-center field.
That was all it took.
“They got a hit when they needed it,” Swanson said. “We had a couple chances, but we didn’t move the runners up when we had two guys on.”
The best chance Viroqua (16-8) had to score came in the top of the fifth when Georgakas, in a rare bout of wildness, walked Kyle Fiske and Joe Huber to start the inning.
But Viroqua failed to get a bunt down that would have moved runners to second and third, then struck out twice to end the threat.
Fiske, who stole third with two out in the inning, was the only Viroqua baserunner to reach second base.
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“He’s a good pitcher,” Swanson said. “There’s only so many left-handers who can throw like that. We’ve struggled at times hitting the ball this year.”
Georgakas, who said the rain didn’t affect the grip on any of his pitches, struck out 11 and twice picked Viroqua runners off first base, including after a leadoff single with the middle of the order coming up in the fourth.
Georgakas, who pitched Ellsworth (15-1) into the Division 2 state championship game last season, knows when he has a team flustered.
“It’s kind of funny when they get upset,” said Georgakas. “But you just have to keep going, though, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Stalsberg had equal control of Ellsworth.
Nobody in the Panthers lineup put the ball in play the first time through the order, as Stalsberg struck out seven of the first nine batters he faced — including making Georgakas look a little foolish by swinging at a pitch that was already caught. Giese punched one through the right side of the infield, then stole second. After Stalsberg’s eighth strikeout, Schutz found a hole on the left side for the lone run.
Stalsberg finished with 12 strikeouts and four walks. He allowed just three hits.
“He’s a really good pitcher,” Georgakas said. “We knew it was going to be a close game.”
Ellsworth advanced to play Barron, a 4-3 winner over Rice Lake in 12 innings in the first semifinal, in the sectional final which was delayed by rain to 4 p.m. today.
Viroqua, which last played in the sectional in 2005, will return all but two starters — including their ace Stalsberg — and gear up for their first state tournament run since 1985 next season.
“It was a great season,” Swanson said. “Kids did well. We were happy to play in the sectional.”