Bluejay nine closes regular season with a chop
The Merrill baseball team had let several close Valley contests slip from its grasp late in the game over the course of this weather-abbreviated season, but the Jays put an end to the trend in Friday’s 7-4 triumph over D.C. Everest.
“That was a big win for us,” Bluejay coach Brian Artac said. “That could have been the same old story. It could have been the bloody sixth again.”
Merrill dropped Everest to 7-5, third in the WVC, with the win at Athletic Park, while improving to a 3-9 tie with Wausau East for 6th.
This one threatened to head in the same direction as previous disappointments, but Merrill stepped up both defensively and offensively to cut it off.
The Bluejays had built a 5-0 lead in the 1st three innings of the game, then watched the Evergreens close to 5-4 with pairs of runs in the 4th and 5th. After a quick Merrill 5th, D.C.E. drove Seth Collins from the game with a single and double, and his relief, Brad Juhlke, walked the bases loaded, still with no outs.
But Juhlke got out of it with grounders to shortstop Ty Grunenwald and second-baseman Randall Cruz, both leading to cut-down throws to home, and then catcher Garrett Pagel picked off Caleb Kell at third.
“I ain’t kidding you, in the middle of the year, we would have caved,” Artac said. “But with the infield up, Gruney makes a play and Randall makes a play. Then (third-baseman) Reinhardt gave Pagel a little tip of the hat signal that the runner was taking too big of a lead and Pagel picked him off. That was a big confidence booster.”
Merrill immediately took advantage. Coleton Bloch led off with a pinch-hit single, and Cruz re-entered to run. Brian Stockowitz hit a sacrifice bunt before Reinhardt drilled an RBI double. Two wild pitches later, Rein­hardt scored to make it 7-4.
“All three times we sacrifice bunted, we scored,” Artac said. “So we’re executing, too. We had a 45-minute bunt drill the other day. They ran a lot of foul poles (lengths as punishment for missed bunts).”
Reinhardt walked to lead off the game, moved up on David Pophal’s bunt, and scored on Alex Klug’s double. Pagel singled and advanced on Collins’ bunt before a throwing error let him score. Reinhardt followed with a 2-run homer for a 4-0 lead in the 2nd. Tom Zuelsdorff reached on a 3rd-inning error and scored with help from Pagel and Collins hits.
Reinhardt (3-3, 2B, HR, 3 R, 3 RBI), Pagel (2-3), Klug (1-4, 2B) paced Merrill to 9 hits. Collins (8 H, 1 W, 3 K, 4 R, 3 ER in 5 I) won, and Juhlke (1 H, 1 W, 0 R in 2 I) saved.
“Reinhardt had a hell of a game,” Artac said. “He made a couple of plays in the field, too. It’s been awhile since we had a third-baseman that solid and he’s a sophomore.”
SPASH wrapped up an 11-1 Valley champion campaign, by 2 games over West, with Thursday’s 7-2 win at Merrill.
“We didn’t play that badly,” Artac said. “Point is a pretty good team. They don’t make mistakes and they’re pretty deep with good pitching.”
RBI singles from Zuelsdorff and Klug drove in runs in the 1st and 7th innings. SPASH plated 3 in the 1st and 7th to take it.
Klug (3-4) and Zuelsdorff (2-3) boosted the hitting, and Grunenwald walked all 4 times. Bloch (12 H, 1 W, 2 K, 7 R, 7 ER in 6 I) lost and Tristan Schultze (0 H, 0 W, 1 K in 1 I) relieved.
The Jays were 6-9 overall before Tuesday’s regional opener at New Richmond.
“We basically lost 10 (non-conference) games to weather, and a lot of those would have been ‘W’s,’ ” Artac said. “Along with all the (Valley) games we lost in late innings, that could have helped us in the (regional) seeding. Now we just have to make our own luck.”
MHS lost both games to West and both to Wis. Rapids on late rallies, the difference between a 3-9 and 7-5 WVC season had Merrill been able to hold on to them all.