Last year, at this point in the season, all the hits fell in and all the catches were made by the Whitefish Bay baseball team.
That level of play led to a WIAA state tournament berth.
But this season, it was kind of hit or miss for the Blue Dukes, and Tuesday night back at Cahill Park, it was a miss night in a big way. Despite a sound pitching performance by team ace Justin Alt, Bay allowed four unearned runs and could not muster enough offense to overcome those kind of mistakes in a season-ending 4-2 WIAA regional semifinal loss to Slinger.
"He (Alt) pitched a great game," said Blue Dukes coach Jay Wojcinski. "We just didn't make a lot of plays behind him. ...It was typical of the season. It was either really good, or really bad. Tonight it was the bad part."
The Blue Dukes, who reached the state semifinals last season, ended their summer with a 15-16 mark while Slinger (13-16) advanced to a regional final at sectional top seed Menomonee Falls (26-4) on Friday.
Alt finished with six strikeouts and a hit batter and the Blue Dukes did manage to stake him to a lead off Owls' ace John Sprayberry with an unearned run of their own in the second.
Designated hitter Pat Rose got on by an error and eventually scored on an RBI single by Andy Conway.
But the lead was short-lived. The Owls' Jake Bjorklund opened the top of the third with a ripping double down the first base line. After a sacrifice, Bjorklund came home on a passed ball, nicely judging the hop of the ball and easily beating the throw back home despite the short Cahill Park backstop.
In the interim, Sprayberry began to settle down. The Blue Dukes got James Stecker to third in the first with less than two outs, but a strikeout looking and a grounder to third stranded him there.
In the run-scoring second, Bay had Turner DeMuth at third and Conway at second with only one out but a chopper off home plate nicely fielded by the catcher prevented any advance, and a pop-up to third left the runners right where they were.
Following those threats, Bay had a hard time manufacturing anything through the middle innings against Sprayberry, who had 11 strikeouts with four walks and one hit batsmen.
Sprayberry mixed a strong, high fastball with an effective dirt-digging curveball that frequently had the Bay batters flailing.
"He (Sprayberry) pitched a great game," said Wojcinski. "We swung at a lot of bad pitches, but he got us to do that and that's to his credit."
The Blue Dukes helped Slinger and Sprayberry take the lead for good in the fourth, as a single, a fielder's choice, and a sacrifice was followed by a wild pitch, which put a runner at third with two out.
But a hard chopper on the infield could not be fielded cleanly, and that led to the go-ahead run.
The Owls tacked on an insurance run in the fifth as leadoff hitter Jared Merten was hit by a pitch that was questionable whether it hit him first or his bat. He was awarded first and after a flyball made it two out, a grounder to third was thrown away.
As the ball skittered up the first base line, Merten was able to score all the way from first to make it 3-1.
Bay was eventually able to close the gap to 3-2 in the sixth, as Turner DeMuth singled home Johnny Markwiese, who had opened the frame with a single of his own on the first pitch he saw.
DeMuth reached second, but could get no farther.
Then the Owls put in the backbreaker in the seventh, again with help from Bay as Slinger's James Boden started things by reaching on an infield single. After another sacrifice, Owls' catcher Nathan Roehle hit a single to right. Boden was probably going to score anyway, but a misplay in the outfield assured the fact that he would have no problem touching the plate and making it 4-2.
"When you don't play defense at key times, it's tough to win," said Wojcinski.
Still, the Blue Dukes had a chance in the seventh.
After a strikeout, Stecker wrangled a walk and then Jackson Weber was hit by a pitch. But the rally ended almost as quickly as it started, as Stecker was thrown out trying to advance to third on a short passed ball, and Alt struck out to end the game.
Bay finished with only four hits off of Sprayberry, as the Owls took the rubber match of the season series with their North Shore Conference league-mates. Each team had claimed one contest apiece in the regular season. Bay just defeated the Owls, 6-1, behind Joe Kaszubowski on July 2.
"It was a day we just couldn't get it done," said Wojcinski, "and that happened a lot this season. Of our 16 losses, I think 11 or 12 of them were by one or two runs."
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