Menomonee Falls - There were so many good story arcs to think about as Menomonee Falls baseball coach Pat Hansen handed out brand-new white caps after his Indians had clinched the Greater Metro Conference title outright July 2 with a 5-1 decision over Marquette.
One was that it was senior night for six seniors who weren't so celebrated going into the campaign. They carried out the ritual of signing the big wooden Indianhead before the game that every senior class does.
Troy Kenkel, Joel Zyhowski, Nick Mandella, Cole Morris, Ryan Bowe and Paul Fitzgerald were the names now etched permanently into history.
Team picked for fifth
This group had been picked for fifth behind two-time state champ Franklin, Muskego, Oak Creek, and Marquette, but instead found themselves as conference champions. Not even a third-place finish in the following Greater Metro Conference Tournament on July 3, 5 and 6, could take the luster off of that shiny little fact.
"Congratulations to the seniors," said Hansen. "I know some of you had to bide your time and didn't play a lot last year, but you worked hard and now find yourselves in a good station."
The Indians (26-4) are the top seed in the WIAA Cedarburg bracket and earned a first-round bye. They will host the winner of eighth-seeded Whitefish Bay and ninth-seeded Slinger in a regional final at Trenary on July 13 (TBA).
The sectional will be played July 16 at Cedarburg. If Falls advances to the sectional, the Indians will play the 10:30 a.m. semifinal with the championship game scheduled for 4:30 p.m. with the right to go to the WIAA State Tournament at Kapco Field on the campus of Concordia University-Mequon on July 20.
That would create a whole new story arc with rituals of their own.
Tipping their caps
Part of the ritual with the new caps after the championship win on July 2 was that Hansen wanted to take pictures of the seniors with the Indianhead, which was another tip of the proverbial hat to what this group has achieved.
"This all shows that good, hard work pays off," said Hansen. "Setting good examples pays off. Just being good teammates pays off."
The players agreed.
"It feels good, really good," said first baseman Kenkel, who had been at the state's senior all-star classic the previous weekend. "It looked like it was supposed to be a rebuilding year to others, but for us it was still the same high expectations. We needed to come out and do great things if we were to prove ourselves.
"We never hung our heads, we always picked each other up."
"It didn't feel good that we had been picked for fifth," said centerfielder Zyhowski, "so we had to do something about it."
Tie just not good enough
The second part of this tale was the championship banner pinned to the fence at Trenary. It already had 2012 emblazoned on it to go along with the other eight titles Falls (or North or East) had won in its storied baseball history even though going into the game the Indians had clinched no more than a tie for the title.
Theoretically, Oak Creek could have tied for the title had the Indians lost and the Knights beaten Sussex Hamilton, which they did, 5-4. Oak Creek finished the regular season at 16-4 and 20-6, respectively.
But a tie wasn't good enough for these Indians.
"We wanted to get it done cleanly," said Zyhowski. "It was the right way to do it. We're a little selfish that way (laughs)."
The third part of this story was the fact that the other GMC titles the Indians had won (in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010) had all come when the GMC was split into two divisions. This year, it's one 11-team conference.
"Even beating the seven other teams in the regular GMC would have been a nice accomplishment," said Hansen to the team, "but here you won it against a league that also includes Franklin, Oak Creek and Muskego. That's a heck of a conference to win."
Pitching, defensive keys game
The fourth part of all this was the clean way the Indians won the game.
They got a great pitching performance out of junior Brendan Paule (six innings, three strikeouts, one walk and five hits allowed), who was backed up by a great defensive effort, including a stellar fifth inning 6-4-3 double play turned in by junior shortstop Brett Krause, junior second baseman Cole Hernikl and Kenkel at first.
It was a professional-level double play, said Hansen.
"That all comes back from the work we did in the Junior Indians' program (as kids)," said Zyhowski of the flash of leather.
Then there was the workmanlike way they took the lead. Along with the pitching and the defense, the Indians have speed this year. They stole six bases on the night, including two in the first inning.
In that frame, junior outfielder Justin Johnson started the rally with a one-out hustle bloop double that fell in among four Marquette fielders. Zyhowski followed that with an RBI single to right. After Zyhowski stole second, Krause brought him home with a single of his own.
The Indians would never be headed after that as insurance runs were knocked in by Hernikl in the second (single), in the third by junior Jimmy Kolz (single) and in the fourth by Krause (fielder's choice).
After reliever Fitzgerald got the final out in the seventh, the Indians conducted a celebratory dog-pile in front of the pitcher's mound.
Hansen smiled for awhile before reminding the team of its next task, the WIAA tourney series. Falls holds the top seed again, something the players want to ratify.
"We've still got things to do, some other goals ahead," said Kenkel.
Creating another set of story arcs in the process.
Falls celebrates GMC crown
Comes up a little short in league tourney
GMC Tourney results
Falls 10, West Allis Hale 7: The Indians survived three errors and a 15-hit Huskies assault in claiming this consolation game on July 6. They were up 7-1 after two innings and were still up 10-2 after five before Hale scored five times in the sixth. Brett Krause got the win, throwing four innings with three strikeouts and no walks as he got help from three relievers. Brendan Paule had three hits with two RBIs while Kevin Snyder had two hits and Zyhowski had two hits and two RBIs.
Muskego 6, Falls 3: A five-run first was too much for the Indians and starter Troy Kenkel to overcome on July 5 against the eventual GMC Tourney champions (the Warriors defeated Oak Creek on July 6). Falls managed just five hits and could not take advantage of six walks as Muskego starter Tyler Thomka, with some seventh inning relief help from Josh Breider, held the Indians in place. Kenkel threw four innings and was responsible for all the runs as Fitzgerald gave Falls a chance with three shutout innings of relief (three strikeouts). Hernikl had two hits including a triple.
Falls 10, Marquette 8: In a next-day rematch of the regular season clincher, the Indians had to work a lot harder to beat the Hilltoppers in the July 3 GMC Tourney quarterfinal. They trailed 7-3 before scoring five times in the fifth and twice in the sixth. Marquette helped them out with seven errors. Kolz had two hits and two RBI while Krause had two hits and two runs scored. Brian Schmit was one of four pitchers used in the game and picked up the win while Krause was credited with a save.
HANSEN QUOTE: "What we got out of it is that we really know what it feels like to lose now and we don't want that at all come (WIAA) playoff time. We know it could happen to us any given day if we're not in the right frame of mind.
"But looking at it as a whole, a 26-4 regular season record with a league championship included. That tells me we've done everything that we can (to prove ourselves) and that one loss to Muskego is not going to change the perspective of this team."
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