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COMMENTARY

WIAA state baseball commentary: Cropp's winning catch lifts weight from shoulders

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GRAND CHUTE, Wis. – Samuel Cropp didn’t have time to think, and that was a good thing.

When the ball popped off the bat of Marshfield Columbus Catholic batter Xane Adler, the Bangor High School sophomore had to let his athletic ability take over.

There was no time to think about any supposed redemption. The notion of that was only in his head anyway.

The Cardinals needed a play that, perhaps, only Cropp could make, and the season was on the line.

“It was in front of me, so I had to go right away or I wasn’t going to get there,” the right fielder said. “I realized I’d have to dive for it, and it was a do-or-die play.”

There were two outs, and the Dons had already scored five runs. They had runners at first and third when Adler made solid contact and sent the baseball toward Cropp in right field.

As the ball tailed off to the right, Cropp left his feet and lunged at it. If the timing of the leap was off, the Cardinals might taste a crushing defeat.

If it was perfect, to use his own word, “Ballgame.”

Columbus Catholic spectators cheered as the anticipated hit started its descent, but that shifted quickly to eruptions of joy from Bangor fans as Cropp got his glove under the ball and his hand on it.

The Dons did their best to steal a victory from the Cardinals on Wednesday, but Cropp’s diving catch for the final out is what secured a 9-8 victory in a WIAA Division 4 state semifinal at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium.

Cropp couldn’t help but smile as he told the story, and who could blame him?

The Cardinals started the bottom of the seventh inning with a six-run lead, and that was just about gone by the time Adler stepped to the plate with runners on first and third.

It wasn’t a scenario any coach would hope for, but it became a perfect one for Cropp, who couldn’t come up with the catch in a similar situation roughly 51 weeks ago.

In that one, Cropp covered the necessary ground, but the ball popped out of his glove. Along with it went a sectional championship that would have had the Cardinals in last year’s state tournament.

The weight was a difficult one for Cropp to carry.

“That one was two outs, bases loaded,” Cropp explained of a sectional final against Southwestern in Blanchardville, Wis. “I dropped the ball in the same spot, and we lost that game.”

The loss was devastating for the entire team, but Cropp was the one who took it on his shoulders. He was there to make the play his team needed, but he couldn’t complete it.

“I felt like I let my team down,” Cropp said. “The last year hasn’t been easy for me. Coming back on the baseball field was hard.”

Bangor coach Todd Grant certainly didn’t agree with Cropp’s assessment of the situation and said it was difficult to see that play weighing on Cropp nearly a year later.

It didn’t matter how many times coaches or teammates told him to cut himself some slack, Cropp had to be the one to do it.

“It chokes me up when I talk about it,” Grant said. “I know he’s been carrying that with him, and there is no reason for him to do that. He’s the only guy on our team who could have even gotten to that ball for a chance to catch it.

“I’m so happy for him to make this play. I can’t express how happy I am for him to make that catch today.”

The bottom line on Wednesday was that Cropp’s catch gave the Cardinals a Thursday date against top-seeded Eau Claire Regis with a state championship on the line.

Cropp’s catch gave every single one of his teammates and coaches that opportunity.

But it also gave him the chance to put what he always perceived to be an ugly moment behind him.

While the outcome of the sectional game will always remain — to an extent — with Cropp, the state semifinal just might be enough to push it out of mind.

It’s a memory he will be able to live again any time he wants, whether it’s talking to his teammates, his friends or his family. Eventually, that goes for kids and grandkids, too.

“It means the world,” Cropp said of the catch. “It means more to me than anyone (could) know.”

Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at todd.sommerfeldt@lee.net or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX

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