The Legion Post 46 baseball team faced an enhanced challenge when shortstop Ty Grunenwald – a First team All-State player in the high school season – needed an emergency appendectomy just prior to Friday’s opening game of the Merrill Regional.
But their backs were truly to the wall when they followed an opening win over Antigo with a Saturday afternoon loss to Lakeland. The 89ers needed to win just one more game to advance to the state tournament, while Merrill faced a slate of Rhinelander later Saturday and two wins over Lakeland on Sunday for the same payoff.
But Post 46 rose to the occasion, using huge innings to pull out a 10-run-rule victory over Rhinelander and a 9-3 triumph over Lakeland in Sunday’s opener. Then, in the finale, Merrill orchestrated two big frames to capture an 11-1 triumph in six innings and the state berth.
“I’m proud of them,” Merrill manager Dave Pyan said. “This is awesome. To come back and beat the same team twice in a day is not easy. But the guys hung together and that’s good.
“Today, with Brad and David pitching, we knew we had a pretty good chance if they pitched solid games and they did. We hit the ball well, too. In the second game we didn’t give up. We had a couple of innings where they had the bases loaded or a couple of runners on, and we worked our way out of them.”
While Merrill limited Lakeland’s damage to just one run, Post 46 scored four and five in separate innings. Shortstop Brian Stockowitz backed up third baseman Justin Pyan on a hot-hop grounder, gunning down a runner trying to score from second at the plate. Later Lakeland trailed 5-1, and right fielder Tom Zuelsdorff first made a deep catch, then backed it up with a hard charge on a trouble short fly with bases loaded to end the inning.
Merrill will play in the state tournament in Baraboo starting on Friday.