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LEGION BASEBALL | ONALASKA 11, WISCONSIN DELLS 5 (10 INNINGS)

American Legion baseball: Pica’s 10th-inning homer helps Onalaska outlast Wisconsin Dells

Sam Pica

Onalaska Post 336's Sam Pica hit a three-run home run in the 10th inning to help the team beat Wisconsin Dells Post 187 in an American Legion Class AA regional matchup on Friday in Holmen.

HOLMEN — Sam Pica struck out in his first three at-bats on Friday and was 1-for-5 on the game when he walked up to the plate in the top of the 10th inning.

No problem for the sweet-swinging lefty.

With two on and two outs in a tie game, Pica launched a three-run home run over the right-field wall at Viking Field, lifting Onalaska Post 336 to an 11-5 victory over Wisconsin Dells Post 187 in Friday’s American Legion Class AA regional contest.

“My great coaching staff just said, ‘Sit back, you know your swing, just let it go,’” Pica said after the win. “I just relaxed and forgot about every other at-bat.”

Despite leaving 17 runners on base in the 10-inning affair and trailing 3-0 early on, Onalaska overcame some offensive struggles to stay out of the loser’s bracket in the four-team regional.

“The pitching really came through for us,” Post 336 coach John Adams said. “We had to use a lot of them today, but if you don’t win the first one, you’re in rough shape.”

Post 336’s regional tournament did not get off to a positive start. Post 187 jumped on Onalaska starting pitcher Ben Faas from the onset, as Wisconsin Dells’ first five batters reached base on three singles and two walks. Center fielder Austin Cunningham opened the scoring with an RBI bloop single to right field, and shortstop Braden Buss followed with a two-run hit.

Faas eluded further trouble by retiring three of the next four hitters, allowing three earned runs in his only inning of work. Ayden Larson relieved Faas in the second inning and quieted the Dells’ lineup over the next four innings.

Onalaska’s bats forced Post 187’s starter Jared Nevar into the stretch in each of his six innings on the mound but couldn’t break through early against the right-hander. Nevar held Post 336 hitless through 3⅔ innings, working around five walks and tallying seven strikeouts in his 5⅔ innings of work.

Post 336 finally solved Nevar in the fifth inning when infielder Wade Fox grounded a base hit through the left side, scoring shortstop Griffin Schultz. Second baseman Kaden Kokaisal added a run-scoring double, but Onalaska couldn’t close the gap any further.

The offense continued for Post 336 in the sixth inning, as the team nearly batted around and took advantage of two Dells errors to rally for three runs. The lead was short-lived though, with Larson conceding his first two hits and two runs of his relief appearance in the bottom of the sixth. Larson gave way to Schultz with the score knotted 5-5.

“Ayden was awesome,” Adams said. “He wasn’t feeling well either, so he gutted it out.”

Wisconsin Dells seemed destined for a walk-off victory in the bottom of the seventh on a base hit from catcher John Buck, but Faas came up with a clutch throw from left field to gun down Degan Jensen at the plate to send the game to extra innings.

Neither team produced a run in the eighth inning, and while Onalaska drew two walks in the top of the ninth, third baseman Adam Skifton took strike three to end the threat. In the bottom of the ninth, Post 187 put a runner in scoring position with one out, but Schultz struck out the next two batters to keep Onalaska’s hopes alive.

Schultz led off the tenth with a walk, and Kokaisal drew a two-out walk to set up Pica’s game-winner. Onalaska tacked on three additional runs in the top of the tenth after the home run, and Skifton pitched a scoreless frame to finish off Post 187.

With the victory, Onalaska advanced to the winner’s bracket final on Saturday afternoon and will face the winner of Friday evening’s Holmen Post 284 and West Salem Post 51 matchup.

“Both teams are really good and some of the top teams around, so we’ll have our hands full for sure,” Adams said.

Following the marathon opener to the regional tournament, Pica said he hopes that the come-from-behind victory will energize Post 336 moving forward.

“It definitely puts us in a good situation for the next couple days,” Pica said. “We’re going to come together as a team, and we know what we’re capable of.”

Wisconsin Dells is still alive in the double-elimination tournament despite the loss. Post 187 will need to string together four-consecutive wins to advance to the Class AA state tournament.

Andrew Polk can be reached at andrew.polk@lee.net or via Twitter @apolk17

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