The gloom of darkness was starting to fall after the three-hour and 11-minute struggle, but Menomonee Falls baseball coach Pat Hansen could still clearly see the meaning of his team's hard-earned, 8-5, 10-inning win over Greater Metro Conference regular season champ Oak Creek Thursday night.
"We keep talking about it, that we're good enough to beat anyone out there," said Hansen, "but we fell short twice to Franklin and lost a tough one to New Berlin Eisenhower which is having a good season, so it's nice to say we can beat anyone we play, but it's much better that we actually do it."
The win improved Falls to 13-6 in the GMC and 17-8 overall while Oak Creek, which clinched the GMC regular season title earlier in the week when Franklin lost to Marquette, finished up the league campaign at 17-3 and 23-3 overall. The loss broke an 18-game winning streak for the Knights.
The Knights will be the top seed in the GMC Tournament that will be played Monday through Wednesday. Oak Creek coach Scott Holler was pleased with how his team battled back from an early 4-1 deficit but notes that the team will have to be sharper come tournament time.
"I was happy with the way we hit the ball," he said. "We hit some shots that were right at some people, but sometimes that's the way it goes. It was just a good ball game. We've been having some trouble lately stringing together hits and we're still trying to figure out the right mix in certain situations."
Both teams earned the top seeds in their respective WIAA sectional brackets and state tournament play will begin on July 19.
And this game Thursday night at Abendschein was played like a state tourney contest as each team turned three doubleplays apiece. There were also a share of critical misplays and some sensational efforts as well.
The game got very intense in the top of the seventh with the Knights holding a 5-4 lead. They had taken the advantage in the bottom of the sixth on a Ryan Ungerecht sacrifice fly, but the Indians pushed back right away in the next at bat, as they got a single from eventual winning pitcher Joe Sanicola and a double from Brett Krause to put runners at second and third.
After Knight reliever Hayden Krimmer got a big strikeout on the Indians' Greg Roble, Holler issued an intentional walk to Falls' Andy Von Bank to load the bases and set up a force play at the plate. Krimmer then got a pop-up to third for the second out but then pinch-hitter Joey Bratten walked to force in the tieing run.
The drama got even more intense in the Oak Creek seventh. There were two out and two on when a high pop-up was hit on the infield, all the bit looking like the last out of the inning. But there was some miscommunication among the Indian defenders and the ball ticked off pitcher Brett Krause's glove, loading the bases.
But Krause bounced back getting Knight shortstop Casey Magyar to strike out looking to end the inning.
"All I can tell you is, is that guy (Krause) is a competitor," said Hansen.
Both teams squelched opportunities by the other in the eighth with doubleplays and Falls got a runner to third with two outs in the ninth, but could not score him.
And with darkness seriously starting to settle in, the Indians began their winning rally in the 10th when starting pitcher turned infielder Logan August walked. After a successful sacrifice by lead-off hitter Joel Zyhowski, infielder A.D. Gonzales ripped a Krimmer fastball up the middle to score August with the go-ahead run.
After catcher Corey Volden (three hits) was hit by a pitch, Sanicola knocked an RBI single to right. Krause put the final touches on the rally with a sac fly to center.
"When they took the lead on us (in the sixth), we knew we had to stay focused," said Gonzales. "It's something that we've been doing all year. He (Krimmer) gave me a fastball middle-in and I'd been waiting for a pitch like that all game."
Sanicola, who came on in the ninth in relief of Krause, gave up a two-out walk to Ungerecht, but got All-Suburban catcher Josh Jesko to strike out looking to end the game.
Falls, which pinged Knight ace Chris Bournelis for 10 hits and four runs before he came out in the sixth ("That was as hard as he's been hit all year," said Holler), was led by Volden, who got on base five times all told this night and also knocked in a run. Outfielder Greg Roble also reached base four times while Sanicola also had three hits.
Joey Gribble, who also had a sensational catch in centerfield to kill one Falls rally and a successful sacrifice, reached base three times for Oak Creek while Kyle Veloz reached base four times. Krimmer and Tanner Johnson had two hits apiece.
"This is just a very good win for us," said Hansen. "We were able to get some big hits early tonight (a series of two-out safeties helped the Indians build their early lead). I was also pleased with how all our pitchers battled tonight, because that's a heck of a line-up they were facing."
"We just want to continue peaking and playing our best ball when it counts."
"Even though we had everything clinched, we were still playing with integrity, still trying to win," said Holler. "We want to show up and remain sharp down the stretch. It was just a good ballclub that we lost to."
And Gonzales and the Indians think they can use a game like this as a launching pad.
"A big win for us," he said. "It gives us a lot of confidence. Just a huge booster because these are the types of teams we have to beat in the playoffs (if we want to get to state)."
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