The stellar athletes from the MHS Class of 2010 gave it one more shot to win a state championship in the American Legion AA State Tournament, held Fri.-Tues at Athletic Park.
But Monday’s 5-3 loss to Holmen took away the last possibility from that talented crew.
“Without a doubt, they were good at whatever they did, whether it was football, basketball, wrestling…,”Merrill manager Shawn Schultz said. “They were just a great group of kids to coach.
“It’s disappointing that we’re done. I really felt we were going to be playing (Tuesday). It’s nice to get to Monday, but it’s much nicer to get to Tuesday. I’m really proud of the way the kids came back all three games after the first game. They’ve come back all year, whether it was back from a bad game or a comeback in a game. We just came up short in this one.”
Merrill’s Post 46 team counted on key contributions from members of the MHS football team that reached Level 4 of the playoffs, the basketball team that played in the sectional final, the wrestling team that met its usual level of excellence, the hockey team that forged one of its best seasons ever, and, most importantly, the Bluejay baseball team that lost 2-1 to champion Bay Port in what was arguably the state championship game in the first round of the unseeded WIAA State Tournament.
Merrill laid an egg in Friday’s first round of this tourney-falling 14-0 to Rhinelander-but the Legion tourney is a double elimination affair so the locals still had life.
The guys immediately wiped that bad taste away with Saturday’s 12-0 triumph over Milton, then backed it up with Sunday’s 7-6 defeat of Beaver Dam to reach the final four.
But Post 46 stranded 10 runners in the Holmen loss, including eight in a four-inning stretch from the third-sixth frames.
“We had opportunities to take the game to them early and we had opportunities to take the lead back later and we didn’t do that either,” Schultz said. “It’s just a matter of getting that one key hit and we couldn’t seem to get things rolling. We did have the tying run at the plate in the last inning, so it could have been a lot worse.”
Pascal Paul hit a home run as the game’s first batter, but Merrill trailed 4-1 by the time it batted in the third after Holmen took advantage of a walk, an error, two singles and a home run.
Post 46 got one back in the third when Jordan Burton singled, stole second and after Paul was hit by a pitch, scored on a Luke Golisch hit. Alex Cordova singled to load the bases but a strikeout and fly ball ended the rally. Consecutive fourth-inning hits by Jared Rothmeyer, Burton and Jordan Annis loaded the path again, and Paul’s sac fly cut it to 4-3. After a Golisch walk, another fly ball saved Holmen.
Holmen matched it in the fourth with a single run.
Annis walked in the sixth and Paul singled and stole an open second, but an infield fly killed that chance. Michael Detert walked with two outs in the seventh, and a strikeout finally sounded the death knell for Merrill’s chances.
“Their pitcher did a good job of keeping us off-balance,” Schultz said. “We had a lot of fly balls, pop ups. We just couldn’t put a good swing on it when we needed to.”
Paul (2-2, HR, 2 RBI) and Burton (2-3) helped Merrill to 8 hits and 4 walks. Golisch (7 H, 1 W, 4 K, 5 R in 3-1/3 I) lost and Paul (1 H, 1 W, 1 K in 2-2/3 I) relieved.
Damming the Beavers
Merrill grabbed its 7-6 triumph over Beaver Dam by jumping out to a 6-0 lead in just two innings, keeping it to 7-1 in the sixth, before hanging on for a wild finish.
Detert hit an RBI single in the first and Jake Schlueter knocked a three-run homer to cap a five-run second. Consecutive singles by Burton, Annis and Paul had loaded the path for a Golisch run-scoring hit and a Cordova RBI sac fly.
When Beaver Dam cut it to 6-1 in the sixth, Schlueter amazingly responded by cranking a solo shot for back-to-back two-homer games.
Beaver Dam made it exciting with 4 walks, two hits and an error.
“We got good production out of the bottom of our order,” Schultz said. “We had a little excitement in the seventh, but Pascal managed to strike the last guy out to end the game.”
Schlueter (2-2, 2 HR, 4 RBI), Burton (3-3), Detert (3-4) and Annis (2-3) all had multiple hits as Merrill came up with 12 hits and one walk.
Zach Wendorf (5 H, 4 W, 5 K, 2 R, 1 ER in 6-2/3 I) collected the win and Cordova (1 H, 3 W, 4 R, 3 ER) and Paul (1 K in 1/3 I) finished.
Post 46 made an early move on Milton, too, jumping out 7-0 in two innings, but used a five-run fifth to kick in the 10-run-rule.
“We were about as low as you can get after Friday night, so it was nice to come back and play well right from the start,” Schultz said. “We had dominant pitching and more consistent hitting.”
Paul allowed just three hits and no walks while striking out six in just five innings of work. He also doubled and tripled, the latter to push it to 3-0 in the second.
Schlueter had ripped a two-run homer in the first, then bombed a grand slam in the second to make it 7-0. Golisch and Cordova had walked after the triple to set the stage.
Singles by Schlueter and Detert and a walk to Lucas Thiel loaded the path for Rothmeyer’s looping RBI single in the fifth, and a high pick-off attempt bumped it to 9-0. Paul then ripped a two-run double off the fence in left-center, and Golisch smashed a run-scoring single to left. Then Paul closed it out with two strikeouts wrapped around a grounder.
Schlueter (3-3, 2 HR, 3 R, 6 RBI), Paul (2-3, 2B, 3B, 3 RBI), and Golisch (2-3) helped Post 46 reach 9 hits and 8 walks.
Merrill had taken 2-of-3 games from the Rebels with incredible comebacks the previous weekend while winning the Medford Regional, and it seemed possible again when Merrill trailed just 2-0 after four innings and 4-0 after five.
But the Rebels exploded for 10 runs in the sixth to make a rally highly improbable.
“(Sam) Huebner pitched well, but four-nothing, you’re in that game,” Schultz said. “They hit the ball extremely well. When you don’t fire back at them, it feeds their confidence, and they’re playing well.”
Rhinelander-a team that only qualified for state due to Merrill hosting-finally lost its first game on Monday night and waited for the winner of Kimberly and Holmen for the champinship game that was too late for this edition of the FN.
Only Paul, Cordova and Thiel could manage hits for Merrill. One walked and 10 struck out. Wendorf (12 H, 4 W, 5 K, 9 R, 9 Er in 5-1/3 I) lost and Ted Porath (5 H, 1 K, 5 R, 5 ER in 1-2/3 I) relieved.
Schultz was impressed with his team over the long haul of the tourney.
“Everybody stood out,” Schultz said. “We had different guys do it both weekends. Some did both, like Jake obviously did, and Zach and Pascal, too, but guys like Jordan Burton had 4-for-5 hits the last two games and Jordan Annis had a lot of good at-bats.
“That’s what it takes to win. Everybody has got to contribute and they have.”