That 1-9 mid-season stretch for the Whitefish Bay baseball team is far in the rearview mirror as the surprising, senior-dominated Blue Dukes can now look forward to their first trip to the WIAA State Tournament in nine years after a resounding 11-3 sectional victory over North Shore rival Cedarburg on Saturday.
"We actually learned a lot in that streak," said Bay tri-captain and shortstop Mike Leckie. "We learned what not to do (laughs). We knew we had a good team. we just had to get back to doing the things that helped us at the beginning of the season."
The Blue Dukes (20-13) will now take on Sheboygan Falls (16-9) in a WIAA state quarterfinal game at 3:35 p.m. Wednesday, July 27 at Bukolt Park in Stevens Point. The semifinals and finals will be played on Thursday, July 28.
For fourth-year Bay coach Jay Wojcinski, who gave the sectional championship plaque to his young daughter Taylor (the "official" mascot of the team) and then hoisted her and the trophy high in the air as the Blue Dukes celebrated their second state trip in school history, it was only a matter of getting back to basics.
"We just needed to get back to doing what we did best," he said. "Finishing games, playing through the seventh inning, and holding leads once we got them. It took us awhile, but we finally got back to it."
"We turned it around."
And the Blue Dukes needed a turnaround against the Bulldogs (20-11), whom they have now beaten three times this season.
Cedarburg pitcher Zach Lauterbach had the Blue Dukes on their heels through the first three innings, facing only one over the minimum, recording four strikeouts and taking advantage of a generous outside corner accorded by the home plate umpire.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs nicked Blue Duke starter and winner Jack Fagan for solo runs in the first and the second. A first-pitch of the game double told Fagan, who had dominated Brown Deer three days earlier in the regional final, that it wasn't going to be quite as easy this time around.
"I was feeling a bit of pressure, I admit it," he said, "and I wasn't bringing it as hard as I was the other day, but I had a good feeling about the team behind me. I know I had good people backing me up."
Fagan and the Blue Dukes worked like a perfect unit after the second inning .
It all started in that frame as after Cedarburg scored its second run, Fagan relied on his defense to get him out of a bases-loaded jam when he induced a clutch groundout to Johnny Markwiese at third to end the inning. Cedarburg would not get a runner to third base again in the game, as Fagan finished with three strikeouts and six walks.
Meanwhile, Lauterbach's defense stumbled in the third, and that opened the door for the suddenly more aggressive Blue Dukes. A miscue by the third baseman started the inning and then heads-up baserunning on an error by the Bulldog shortstop led to the first run.
Then when James Stecker doubled home Pat Rose, the Cedarburg defense airmailed the relay throw into the netting over homeplate, allowing Stecker to score himself and give Bay the lead for good.
The Blue Dukes then chased Lauterbach with a five-run fifth as as Leckie smacked an RBI double after still another Bulldog error and that was followed by RBI singles from Pat Harrington and Justin Alt and a big, two-run safety by DH Pat Rose.
Bay put the petal to the metal in the sixth as first baseman and senior tri-captain Garrett DeMuth capped a three-run inning with a two-run double to center.
For DeMuth, who spent last summer with a traveling team instead of the Blue Dukes, it was sweet redemption.
"I felt like I abandoned my boys last year," he said. "It felt good coming back this year and making some amends. ...I've never seen a team more focused than this one."
It was also a sweet victory for Wojcinski, who took a team to sectional finals a few years ago, when several of the 10 seniors were sophomores, only to come up short in a loss to Homestead. That loss came at Cahill Park, Bay's homefield, the site of today's big win.
"We felt at that point, we were only a half-game away from state, so these kids didn't want to repeat that experience," he said. "They weren't going to let anything razzle them this year. They were a determined group of kids."
He also couldn't say enough about the effort by Fagan.
"He would have been ready to go yesterday (after Friday rains extended the sectional to a second day)," Wojcinski said. "The rain actually helped him by giving him another day of rest. After he got out of that jam (in the second), I knew he was in it for the rest of the game and was ready to get the job done."
Fagan said the homefield support the Blue Dukes got at Cahill was a big help.
"I had a lot of family behind me in the stands," he said. "I knew when I saw all of them there that I had to come out throwing. I just stayed positive and so did the team."
"No one was going to get inside our heads today," added DeMuth. "It just wasn't happening. We were going to go out there and get the job done."
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