In the end, the third time was not the charm for the Whitefish Bay baseball team in its WIAA state semiifnal with North Shore champ West Bend West Friday afternoon in Stevens Point.
The eventual state runner-up Spartans broke open a close game with five runs in the sixth against Bay starter Justin Alt, who had been the starting pitcher in each of the previous two match-ups and reliever Bob Linneman, in pulling away for a 9-4 decision.
"They're just a good team and as I've told the kids before, there is no shame in losing to a team like that, especially if they play better than you did, like they did today," said Blue Duke coach jay Wojcinski. "They've been up here (state) a lot lately and there's a reason for that."
The loss ended the Blue Dukes winning streak at seven and gave them a final record of 21-14, while the Spartans (28-6) extended their winning streak to 19 games. That run came to an end in the finals later that afternoon at Bukolt Park as for the second season in a row, Franklin beat West, 5-4, for the state championship.
Bay, which had advanced to the semifinals the day before with a 9-2 quarterfinal victory over Sheboygan Falls, looked like it was going to get blown out by the Spartans, which had beaten them by a combined score of 12-2 in their two regular season match-ups.
Spartan first baseman Shane Hayes was a one-man wrecking crew for the Spartans, snapping off an RBI double in the first and then ripping an Alt delivery for a rocket shot of a two-run homer to right-center in the second.
West had a 4-0 lead at that point.
But the Blue Dukes, as has been their habit recently, fought back against West starter Davis Yach. Yach had put down the first six Bay batters that he saw, but at the start of the third, an error on the shortstop put Bay outfielder Grant Menard on at first, then outfielder Jackson Weber followed with a hard single to left.
Third baseman Johnny Markwiese then flipped a little flare to right-center that fell in for an RBI single. Lead-off hitter and second baseman Mike Leckie then scored Weber with the second run on a sacrifice fly to center.
Catcher Pat Harrington then chased Yach with a ringing RBI double off the fence that made it 4-3.
"I liked the way we fought back," said Wojcinski. "I thought we'd show a little heart."
And the outburst helped reinvigorate Alt, who then over the course of the next three-plus innings put down 10 Spartans in a row. Unfortunately, Bay had a hard time getting anything going against West reliever and eventual winner Dylan Hinckley, who over the next two-plus innings gave up only one hit and one walk.
Both of those baserunners came in the fifth as Markwiese notched his second hit of the game and Harrington walked to put two on with two out. But then Hinckley got Bay power hitter Garrett DeMuth to pop out to first to end the threat.
West took advantage of that break in the sixth, as Alt finally tired. A walk, a single and a double plated another Spartan run and chased the game Blue Dukes starter. Linneman came on and gave his best effort, but showed state tournament nerves as a hit batter and two wild pitches helped plate four more West runs.
Yach got a bit of revenge for being knocked out of the game himself by lashing a two-run single.
Bay put together a minor rally in the seventh as Harrington hit a two-out RBI single, but a fielder's choice ended the Blue Dukes' hopes.
It was difficult for the senior-dominated Blue Dukes to end their season so close to a championship game appearance. Likely all-stater DeMuth had a hard time containing his feelings, lingering long with family members and teammates afterward.
"This was the greatest team I've ever played on," he said, choking a bit with emotion. "This was an awesome ride this season and I've enjoyed every moment."
Wojcinski liked his chances going in with Alt again.
"We had faced (West ace Jon) Nick in the previous two games and he really changes the dynamic of the situation," said Wojcinski, "We weren't going to see him this time and I thought Justin had pitched well in both of those previous games. We just weren't able to support him then."
"It was a pretty even game until the sixth with a couple of walks and passed balls. They put Hinkley in there and he did a nice job of keeping the ball down."
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