In the minds of the Muskego baseball team it was no time to panic.
Even though Oak Creek ace Brad Schulte had set down 13 Warriors in a row Friday night and went into the seventh inning of the Greater Metro Conference tourney championship game with a 2-1 lead, Muskego coach Jacob Paige and eventual winning pitcher Josh Breider knew all the team needed was a little spark.
And they got it with seventh inning lead-off hitter Nate Hammel, who coaxed a sharp grounder just inside the third base line for a double. That kickstart led to a four-hit, four-run rally that allowed the visiting Warriors to claim the GMC tourney title with a 5-2 victory over the Knights.
"We had no doubts," said Breider, who threw six innings for the win and also had a two-run single to knock in a pair of insurance runs in the seventh. "We knew we could get one run. We just needed a baserunner."
"After that it was just a matter of holding our composure, trusting our defense and making plays."
"We just kept on pushing," said Paige. "Schulte threw a heck of a game but we finally got a break and then we took advantage of it. There just is no give-up in this team, especially when we're playing a team like Oak Creek, which we respect immensely."
Paige served for five years on Oak Creek's coaching staff before taking over the Warriors last season.
Muskego (20-10) now earns a share of the title with regular season champ Menomonee Falls (26-4), which the Warriors beat, 6-3, in the semifinals Thursday night.
In that game, Breider closed down a bases-loaded two-out rally in the seventh in relief of winner Tyler Thomka.
Oak Creek coach Scott Holler was disappointed as the Knights (22-7) fell just short of a share of their third straight Greater Metro title.
"Give their kids credit," he said of the Warriors. "They really battled back. "Hindsight is 20/20, but there really was no reason to take Brad (Schulte) out in the seventh, because he was going so strong. Baseball is such a crazy game sometimes. You just never know."
Such as in the case of what happened immediately following Hammel's double. Designated hitter Peter Jewel had a hard time getting down a bunt his first two tries but then popped up the ball close in along the first-base line in his final try.
Knight catcher Bryan Flick saw chance to make a great play with a possible diving catch but came up just a little short. The ball was spinning wildly and appeared to be headed towards the foul line but Flick accidently touched it and all hands were safe.
"That was a tough, tough play," said Holler.
Immediately following that, Muskego outfielder Joey Bandoszeski flared a ball over Knight shortstop Casey Magyar's head for the game-tieing single.
After a successful sacrifice, Holler had Schulte intentionally pass Thomka to load the bases and set up a potential doubleplay, but Schulte then walked outfielder Zack Mattson to force in the go-ahead run.
After Hayden Krimmer relieved Schulte, Breider greeted him with a hard-bounding single that bounced through the middle of the infield for two more runs.
Not even third baseman Tanner Johnson's spectacular 5-3 doubleplay to end the inning shortly thereafter could take the edge off of what had been a disaster of an inning for the Knights.
Jewel then came on in relief of Breider and after a lead-off walk to Magyar, he got a strikeout, a ground-out to first and a soft liner to short to give the Warriors the victory and a share of the league title.
"It was good to finally see this team put a series of wins together over some quality opponents," said Paige. "We really couldn't have asked for anything more out of the effort."
Breider, who finished with five strikeouts and four walks with only four hits allowed, had been staked to a 1-0 lead with the help of an unusual play. With two out in the top of the first, Muskego first baseman Austin Wendlandt was eventually ruled to have been hit by a pitch on his foot.
Initially both the home plate and base umpires said there was no hit, but Paige requested to see if the ball had any shoe scuffs on it. The ball had bounced up against the backstop, but the homeplate umpire picked it up and ruled that Wendlandt had indeed been hit by the pitch anyway.
It was shades of a famous incident in the 1957 World Series where a Milwaukee Braves player started a criitical rally by claiming there was shoe polish on the ball after he had been hit by a pitch. The umpires sent him to first and the Braves wound up winning their only Series title in Milwaukee thanks in part to that play.
Holler was initially skeptical of the call, noting that the ball could have been discolored by banging into the backstop, but he didn't raise a stink despite the fact that two batters later, Wendlandt scored the game's first run on a single by Hammel.
"In the end, it proved to be neither here nor there," Holler said.
That was because Schulte, after a tough couple of early innings, settled into a groove and gave his team a chance, scattering four hits with three walks and four strikeouts.
His run of 13 in a row lasted from the last batter of the second inning right until the end of the sixth.
Oak Creek finally got Schulte the lead in the bottom of the fourth as designated hitter Matt Hargreaves singled and then Schulte ripped a double to put runners on second and third with one out.
Breider struck out the Knights' Dakota Slone, but the pitch scooted past the catcher all the way to the fence, allowing Hargreaves to score the tieing run and for Slone to reach first.
Magyar then hit a strong sacrifice fly to centerfield to bring home courtesy runner Kahler Cox with the go-ahead score. It had been typical of Knight rallies in recent wreeks as they have had to scratch and claw for runs ever since outfielder Austin Barbee went down with a shoulder injury 10 days ago.
Holler said that Hargreaves has been a good replacement at the plate for Barbee, but noted that it's hard to make up for Barbee's speed in the outfielder and on the basepaths.
Breider gave his team an opportunity too, as he downed the last seven Oak Creek batters he faced after giving up the two runs.
But it looked liked the Knights were going to hold on until the Warriors' rally in the seventh.
"Breider threw a really good game," said Holler. "He's as good as advertised. He threw a couple of 0-2 curveballs for strikes that were amazing. He has great mound presence and command. They (the Warriors) are going to be a tough out in the (WIAA) tourney (that starts next week)."
Paige agreed with Holler's assessment of Breider.
"He absolutely wants the ball in tough situations," said Paige, "and the way he's reacted this season, there's absolutely no reason not to give it to him."
Breider now likes his team's chances when it opens tourney play on Tuesday at home against South Milwaukee. Oak Creek is the top seed in the same sectional and has a first round bye.
"Winning the conference tourney is huge," said Breider. "We'll try to take this momentum and work with it. We're a team that's lived by pitching and defense this season. The hitting has been up and down, but we've been getting some timely hits lately."
No more so than tonight.
- Oak Creek softball team's road trip successful
- Oak Creek girls track wins third straight outdoor invite
- Oak Creek girls track and field team opens outdoor with two invite wins
- Oak Creek boys track opens outdoor on strong note
- Strong Oak Creek singles play leads to boys tennis title
- Softball: Oak Creek's big bats bring down Franklin softball team
- Oak Creek's big bats overpower Franklin softball team, 14-6
- Cleary a leader in all ways for Oak Creek boys basketball team
- Hart, Oak Creek girls basketball team used balance to succeed
- Opportunities missed in 13-10 Oak Creek boys basketball season