The way the Oak Creek baseball team dominated its two WIAA sectional opponents on Monday by a combined 17-1 score, it almost seemed like the Knights were on a mission.
That's because they actually were.
"This year, this team really rallied," said head coach Scott Holler. "We lost our booster club president, Tim Ungerecht, when he passed away in the winter. We really rallied around his passing. His son (Tyler) is on the team this year, and his other son played for us last year.
"We've dedicated this season to him, and always at the forefront of our minds has been the fact that people like Tim have helped get us to this point, helped the kids when they were younger. He was a great baseball guy, and the guys wanted to do this for him."
The Knights blanked Greendale, 8-0, in the semifinal game, then shut down streaking West Allis Hale, 9-1, in the sectional championship contest to earn their first trip to the state tournament since 2008.
Oak Creek will take on Sheboygan Falls at approximately 3:15 p.m. Friday at the new Kapco Park on the campus of Concordia University in Mequon.
A year ago, the Knights made it to the sectional title game, only to lose to Franklin, which went on to claim its second straight state crown.
Leading way to state
Oak Creek made sure there would be no disappointment this time, riding the strong arm of pitcher Brad Schulte and the hot bat of Riley Shelton past the Huskies, who had also been on a roll heading into the game.
Hale managed a couple of hits in the first inning but did not score. The Huskies only totaled four more the rest of the way, with three coming in the fourth inning, when they tallied their only run.
Oak Creek was already up 1-0 going into the bottom of the second when Shelton belted a ball to deep center field for a triple. He scored when the next batter, Doran Turchin, hit a sacrifice fly.
The Knights took firm command of the game with four runs on five hits in the third inning. Leadoff hitter Casey Magyar singled to open the frame, and Austin Barbee reached on a well-placed bunt single. Both came home on a double into the left-center gap from Tanner Johnson.
Hayden Krimmer grounded out to plate another run, and after a single by Matt Bautch, Shelton singled to right for the fourth run to make it 6-0.
Knights didn't let up
Not that Holler was feeling comfortable.
"We know how good a hitting team Hale is," he said. "We've played some wacky games against (the Huskies) this year. We knew they could hit the ball, and even when we got up by five runs, we said this may not be enough; we need to keep coming."
Indeed, the Huskies came to life in the top of the fourth inning. Alex Elenteny reached on a fielder's choice, advanced on a single from Ben Allan and came home on a single to left by Sam Versnik.
Schulte ended the threat with a groundout from Taylor Tomczak.
"I was getting tired (in the fourth)," Schulte said. "The heat was getting to me, but I have been dealing with runners getting on base all year and just shutting (teams) down."
Magyar made a fine play on a hard grounder to short by Marcel Mundt to end the Hale fifth, then the Knights added three runs in their half of the inning.
Shelton tripled to the center-field wall and scored on Turchin's double. Another pair of runs tallied on a wild pitch and a groundout from Dakota Slone.
Pitcher dialed in
Schulte, who had recovered from his mid-game struggles, closed out the game by striking out the side in the seventh, working around a double from Tomczak. The senior struck out eight hitters and walked just one.
"Coach told me to keep the ball low, get ahead of these guys early, and then I could be in control all the way through," Schulte said. "(I used) pretty much the curveball, which is my best pitch."
Holler said of Schulte, "He was changing speeds really well. He had the curveball, and he had his slider going. He was able to spot his fastball pretty much as he needed to."
Hale head coach Paul Dooley praised Schulte, saying, "He pitched great, and he's been good all year. He's one of the best pitchers we've seen all season."
Shelton led the hitting, going 3 for 4 with a pair of triples, a run batted in and two runs scored.
"I'm just seeing the ball well," he said. "I'm getting my pitch and jumping on it early."
Holler added, "He's been red hot lately. He hit two home runs in our regional game against Cudahy (an 8-4 victory). When he's dialed in, he really drives the baseball well. He's been huge."
That is nothing new to Dooley and the Huskies.
"Shelton has had a dozen hits off us this year," Dooley said. "He's just been on fire. I think (he hit) every pitch we threw to him, changeups, curveballs, fastballs."
Dooley also wished the Knights well at state Friday, saying, "I hope they keep hitting, I hope they represent the GMC well and I hope they win it."
Tim Ungerecht would wish that as well.
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