Lasers win wild game, clinch share of league crown
For Kettle Moraine's baseball team, it was roughly three steps back and one giant leap forward.
A decision to move the infielders back to medium depth set up a game-ending double play with the bases loaded, the final maneuver in a zany Classic 8 Conference finale that gave the Lasers a 5-4 win over Mukwonago and a share of the conference championship. Waukesha West's win over Milwaukee Pius later in the evening, 7-3, ensured the two teams would share the crown with 16-5 league records.
It was Kettle Moraine's first baseball title since 1987, when it belonged to the Suburban Park -- the only other baseball conference title in school history.
Ott gets the grounder
Kettle Moraine (18-9 overall), which had rallied from a run down to take leads in both the sixth and seventh, needed a ground ball in the game's biggest moment. On a delivery from senior pitcher Cory Ott, whose day had been a microcosm of the roller coaster endured by the KM nine, Mukwonago's Jake Scheibe sent a bounder to Keith Koehn at second base. Koehn stepped on the bag and threw to first base to retire Scheibe.
Scheibe slid into the bag on the play and was ruled out on a call that drew the ire of MHS personnel. The play would have never come to pass had Lasers coach Brian Adamczyk gone with the initial instinct of bringing Koehn and shortstop Austin Finn to the infield grass, rather than moving them back to normal depth in advance of the at-bat.
"Anything on the corners we didn't feel we could turn a double play on, we were definitely coming home," said catcher Justin Yute, whose squeeze bunt in the seventh re-tied the game before Ott's sacrifice fly gave the Lasers their final lead. "Luckily, it got hit right to Keith, and he was able to take it by himself."
It was Ott's only inning of work. After striking out cousin Devan Ott to open the frame, he allowed back-to-back singles to Jason Strickler and Matt McCartan and walked Mitch West, prompting a conference on the mound.
"Coach had confidence in the middle infielders to turn the double play," Ott said. "He just said (to me), 'Do what you do and roll a ground ball.'"
Ott spent most of the day at shortstop, where a ball through the wickets with two outs in the sixth allowed Mukwonago to take a 2-1 lead. But that disadvantage didn't last long, when Finn sent a bouncer up the middle past Mukwonago's own drawn-in infield to plate two runs and give the Lasers a 3-2 edge in the top of the sixth.
Ott even obtained a morsel of redemption in the bottom half, when he barehanded a looping squibber with backspin and threw out McCartan leading off the frame. Mukwonago (8-13 in conference, 12-15 overall) rallied for two runs when four of the next five batters singled against Austin Wolf, taking a 4-3 lead into the final frame, but the damage could have been worse.
After KM re-tied the game, it was Ott's fly to center that gave his team the final lead.
"Baseball is a special game," Ott said. "One thing can go wrong for you one minute, and you can come back later in the game and do it all and win."
The winning rally was rife with adventure. Dom Nabak, who nearly made a diving catch in center that would have prevented the Indians from scoring the tying and subsequent go-ahead runs in the sixth, led off with a single. Matt Melbye was unable to get a bunt down on two attempts but atoned with a perfectly-executed hit and run that moved Nabak to third.
Yute, the team's leadoff hitter, then bunted it back toward the pitcher's mound, where J.J. Crawford nearly made the play to catch a speeding Nabak, who nonetheless slid safely past Strickler's tag.
"It's something I can do but haven't had to do very often this year," said Yute, one of the team's top hitters. "We had no outs, so if he threw me a strike, I was going to try and get it down. I was trying to push it past the pitcher on the right and made it a little closer that I wanted to."
In the aftermath, Melbye moved to third, and he scored on the fly ball from Ott, who then came in to pitch and preserve the one-run lead.
"He's a senior," Adamczyk said. "Nothing against any of the other guys that were out there before, but we're giving him a chance to win a conference championship in his senior season. We didn't talk about it much today. We knew we still had control with what happened."
Before he accounted for the final outs, Koehn worked five innings on the hill, allowing only one earned run on five hits with three strikeouts. With two outs in the sixth of a 1-1 tie, Crawford and Chris Schiferl posted consecutive singles for Mukwonago before Devan Ott hit a grounder to short that got away and brought in the go-ahead run.
Crawford comes through
Crawford finished with two hits, a walk, two runs scored, an RBI and all seven innings on the hill. He walked only one batter and struck out three.
"When he's on, he is our best pitcher," Mukwonago coach John Strohbusch said. "The problem for him has been consistency and control and getting ahead of hitters. Three or four games this year, he's been on and he's been dominant. He was fantastic tonight. That's why we've struggled lately; we haven't had consistent outings from our pitching."
At one point, Crawford faced the minimum over 10 batters, with a walk erased when Strickler nabbed the runner leaning too far off first. Mukwonago made its share of defensive plays, including a diving stab by shortstop Austin Bricco and a line drive spear by Crawford on the mound.
"We played about as bad defensively as we could possibly play Tuesday (in a loss to Pius), with six errors, and played about as good as we can tonight," Strohbusch said. "We had some backups playing (because of injury) ... to battle through all that stuff and still have a chance to win at the end, I'm real proud of the guys."
Mukwonago's bottom of the order came through in the sixth, with No. 6 hitter West and No. 8 hitter Dan Timmers singling ahead of No. 9 hitter Ty Behling, whose flair to center was nearly caught by Nabak. Crawford followed with the go-ahead RBI single. Devan Ott drove in the first run of the game with a single in the first, and Robbie Dombrowski's RBI single in the top of the second brought the Lasers back to even.
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