One bad inning keeps Tomah from state
With nearly 200 innings of baseball played this season, the Tomah High School baseball team had rightly earned a reputation of stinginess on the defensive of the ball.
The Timberwolves were successful in avoiding a blow-up inning all season long, successfully holding their opponents to one or two-run frames instead of allowing that five or six-run rally that almost certainly leads to a loss.
Successful, that is, until the fourth inning rolled around in Tuesday’s Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 sectional championship game against Waunakee.
The Warriors took advantage of an injury to Tomah starting pitcher Mason Brandt and struck for seven runs in the fourth en route to a 10-2 victory over the Timberwolves at Copeland Park in La Crosse.
The loss ended Tomah’s season one win shy of a state tournament berth.
“We’ve avoided it all year long – giving up that big inning,” said Tomah head coach Ryan Brookman. “You just have to give credit to Waunakee – they came through with big hits.”
Holding a narrow one-run lead, Waunakee opened its fourth-inning rally with a lead-off double by Riley Ripp.
Brandt struck out the next Warrior batter, but a dropped third strike allowed Nate Stevens to take first and Ripp to advance to third with no outs.
Brandt, who got a cramp in his calf while warming up in the second inning, walked the next Waunakee batter to load the bases and Ben Nordloh followed with a RBI single to put the Warriors on top 2-0.
Another walk prompted Brookman to call on Tommy Repka to relieve the ailing Brandt on the mound, but a walk and a bases-clearing triple followed, extending the Waunakee lead to 8-0.
“Mason did a good job, but he got a cramp in his leg warming up in the second inning,” offered Brookman. “He was still effective in the second and third innings. He didn’t want to come out.”
Tomah answered in the bottom of the frame, scoring a pair of runs on a lead-off single by Jordan Albrecht, a double off the bat of Kyle Kroener and a two-run single by Connor Prielipp.
The loss to Waunakee in the finals came in the wake of a thrilling 2-1 walk-off victory over Middleton in the afternoon semifinal.
Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh, Tomah rallied to score twice on its way to a 2-1 victory.
With one out in the last of the seventh, Repka singled on a hard ground ball between third and short to fuel the Timberwolf rally.
One out later, Casey Curran came through with a double over the left fielder’s head and Nick Murphy, pinch running for Repka, scored all the way from first to tie the game at 1-1.
Curran moved to third in the throw to the plate and Albrecht followed with a line-drive single to centerfield to push the winning run across.
Prielipp went the distance on the mound against Middleton in the afternoon semifinal, scattering seven hits, while striking out four against just one walk to earn the complete-game victory.
“Connor has pitched so well all year against good-hitting teams. He puts his fastball in good locations and gets lots of weak contact. He’s been good in every game,” said Brookman.
He said the walk-off win over Middleton in the sectional semifinal is something his players will cherish after the sting of the finals loss wears off.
“I’m really happy for the kids. You want that experience more than anything else. It’s a pretty cool experience. It’s pretty awesome,” he said.
“I’m very proud of these boys,” concluded Brookman. “It’s easy to say you’re disappointed you didn’t win that game, but if you would have said at the beginning of the season that we would be playing in the sectional finals, I would have told you I’d be very happy with that.”