Long retired Germantown baseball coach Chuck Ritzenthaler was just about out the door last Sunday, heading toward a senior league game he was about to pitch (yup, that's right), when he was informed that his former team had pulled off a small miracle and was advancing to the state tournament.
"Isn't that cool?" said the 30-plus-year coaching veteran wistfully. "What an exciting experience for those kids."
And that brought back memories of the Warhawks' only other trip to state in 1986 for the old coach, which was earned at Menomonee Falls' Trenary Field with a win over Brookfield East.
"I remember we came back to school (after sectional) and we all jumped in the pool," he said with a laugh, knowing that that's not possible now, as the school pool has been gone for several years now.
And there are a few other sweet tie-ins for Ritzenthaler when it comes to this state berth. First of all, it was earned on the Warhawks' Dream Field, a place that Ritzenthaler invested a lot of sweat, time, effort and promise in helping build 15 years ago that also bears his name.
He would have been proud of Saturday's effort put in by the groundskeeping staff, headed up by Athletic Director Jack Klebesadel, after the sectional was postponed by a day due to Thursday's downpours. Then a little more rain was added Friday night to compound their problems.
There was standing water everywhere Saturday morning, and start times for the games kept getting pushed back while the volunteers raked, blow-dried and otherwise hastened the water's departure from the field.
NOW reporter Tom Skibosh, who was covering the Menomonee Falls-Brookfield Central semifinal, said that people were still out there blow-drying the baselines five minutes before game time.
First time for Wagner
Ritzenthaler sent out hearty congratulations to sixth-year coach Parrish Wagner on his first state trip as either a coach or a player.
Neither Parrish nor his older brother, Paul, a former Major League pitcher for several years, made it to state with a Germantown team. Paul was just a year or two ahead of the 1986 team, and Parrish was a couple of years too young for that squad.
"They were very talented kids," said Ritzenthaler of the pair whose names are both liberally sprinkled throughout the Warhawks record books, "but sometimes you need breaks (to get to state)."
And Parrish Wagner is very aware of that concept.
"Having been through that, it's good just to sit back and let the kids (on the team) enjoy this," he said, "because sometimes it's hard for them (the players) to understand how important this is. How few kids get to do this (go to state)."
And the current coach is also grateful for all the wisdom Ritzenthaler passed down to him - information that allows him to appreciate this moment so well.
"I learned a lot from him," said Wagner. "You be around a person for four years, you pick up things. Sometimes you sit back and wonder why is he doing this or that and then when the dust settles, you realize that it's the kind of stuff that made him as successful as he was.
"And after a total of 10 years in coaching myself, I have even a greater appreciation for that."
Oh yes, and what of that senior league ball that Ritzenthaler is playing?
Well, it turns out that he not only played a game on Saturday, but was going to make himself available for another team that was short-handed on Sunday.
"He always did keep himself in great shape," chuckled Paul Frey, who pitched 10 innings for Ritzenthaler in the Warhawks' epic, 4-3, 14-inning quarterfinal win over Onalaska in the 1986 tournament.
OTHER NOTES ON THE DAY
• It was a small piece of coincidence that the Warhawks had to beat Slinger in the sectional semifinal to get to Falls. Slinger was where Wagner started his coaching career 10 years ago.
• Contacted afterwards, Homestead coach Ernie Millard and Nicolet coach Dick Sykes, whose teams also both fell short of state, were complimentary of the three North Shore Conference squads (Germantown, Grafton and West Bend West) that did make it to this week's WIAA tournament.
That result, along with the fact that the powerhouse Greater Metro Conference only qualified one (Franklin) to the annual event, made those two state champion veterans happily eat their words when they said earlier in the season that the GMC was by far the best league in the state.
• And an old baseball axiom came to the fore Saturday in the north side sectionals: Good pitching beats good hitting every time. That's because underdog teams Grafton (Conor Fisk's 1-0 decision over top seed Nicolet) and Germantown (Tyler Thicke's 2-1 win over Falls) both rode superior arms to surprising victories.
That axiom also held true in the case of Falls' 1-0 sectional semifinal win earlier in the day over Brookfield Central, as old friends Mike Mierow of Central and Adam Rubatt of Falls dueled each other in a thriller that wasn't decided until the bottom of the seventh.
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