Special to the Foto News
The Merrill Greys turned around a 3-6 season with a seven-game winning streak culminating in a Northwoods Babe Ruth championship. The capper on the streak was a 14 -12 victory over the #1-seed Rhinelander 3 team.
Merrill overcame an uncharacteristic 10-error performance by their defense, by pounding out 16 hits behind sharp pitching for the win. Twice, Merrill had a 6-run lead only to let the Hodags back in the game. Micheal Casper came in to pitch with 2 outs in the fifth to shut the door on the relentless Rhinelander team to pick up the save in support of Ty Bailey, who picked up the win. The offense was led by Quinn Steckbauer and Vinnie Galella (both 3 hits), and Adam Detert, Hunter Hintze, and Brant Raleigh (2 hits each).
The Merrill winning streak started when the Greys were 3-6 on the season. They had lost their 6 games by a total of 10 runs. Merrill manager Andre Galella had a closed dugout meeting in which he questioned their readiness to play.
The youngest team in the league responded by winning their final three games of the regular season to finish 6-6 and enter the playoffs as the seventh seed. In the last game of the year, Merrill won a thrilling 9-inning game 11-10, against the 9-2 Rhinelander 3 team to keep them from winning the regular season championship.
Merrill’s first opponent in the playoffs was a feisty 10th-seeded Rhinelander team. The Greys won 9-3 behind the pitching of Brant Raleigh.
That win catapulted the Greys into the second round against regular season champ and second-seeded Lakeland. The Greys had dropped two close games against them during the regular season and were poised to upset the freshman-laden Lakeland team. Merrill ace Vinnie Galella started on the mound for the Greys and it was deja vu all over again.
For the second consecutive year, the Merrill pitcher threw a complete game, one-hit shutout against Lakeland, and the upstart Greys advanced to the semi-final round with a 2-0 victory. The Merrill defense, especially center fielder Elijah Schellbert, was stifling and Kobe Blake supplied all the offense Merrill needed with a double to the wall and a run-scoring ground out.
The victory set up a battle against third-seeded Eagle River. Merrill pitchers Blake, Raliegh, Ty Bailey and Micheal Casper shut down the vaunted Eagle River offense allowing only four hits. Cole Zimmerman, Jake Bailey, Dan Pepke, Alex Bloch and Elijah Schellbert contributed key hits in the Merrill win that sent the team to the championship game. Merrill manager Andre Galella attributed the team’s success to the maturing of the teams six 13-year-olds, great coaching by the coaching staff, and the team’s ‘never-say-die’ attitude.