WIAA Playoffs: Preble leans on Wagner at the plate and on the mound to win sectional title


By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Joannes Park in Green Bay was the site of the WIAA sectional featuring four Power 25 squads squaring off: No. 13 De Pere vs. No. 2 Kimberly and No. 19 Hortonville vs. No. 7 Green Bay Preble. The winners of the two games would meet in the sectional championship later that day. We were on site to take in the dramatic sectional action first-hand, and there’s a lot to share. Below are recaps of all three games.

GAME ONE

For much of this one, the Redbirds were in complete control. Their senior righty Henry Donaldson limited Kimberly to just run one – which happened to be unearned – through four innings of work. Meanwhile, De Pere had been the benefactors of a few walks and a key error that the Redbirds took full advantage of. Will Semb (2020; Iowa commit) was assigned to a designated hitter role in this one while he deals with an injury that’s preventing him from throwing for the time being. Either way, Semb found a way to make a huge impact.

His RBI single in the top of the first put De Pere on the scoreboard and he lined a single through the infield again in the second to bring in the Redbirds’ third run of the ballgame. Donaldson helped himself out right after with another run-scoring single up the middle to pad his lead on the mound, 4-1, after just one-and-a-half innings.

Things were looking dire for the Papermakers by the third. Starter John Nett (2019; St. Cloud State) was relieved for junior southpaw Donovan Schultz (2020; uncommitted), but it didn’t matter who was pitching for Kimberly by this time, De Pere was looking to add runs however they could. Schultz earned a couple of quick outs but walked the next batter he faced. Then, Tyler Jones (2020) jumped all over a fastball and launched it over the left field fence to make it a 6-1 De Pere lead.

And once Kimberly spoiled a scoring opportunity of their own in the bottom of the third, it felt like the Papermakers were seriously on the ropes.

After a quiet fourth, De Pere loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth and Kimberly’s Schultz earned a huge strikeout to end the threat which seemed to reenergize his team’s dugout. In the bottom of the inning, a Nett one-out single was followed up by a Drew Lechnir (2019; Central Michigan) shot to deep right-center that one-hopped the wall, scoring Nett all the way from first, sparking a rally. A strikeout made it look like the threat would halt there, but back-to-back singles by Michael Alt (2020; uncommitted) and Gavin Lefeber (2019) plated three Kimberly runs, bringing the Papermakers back within a run.

But De Pere countered right away with a run of their own in the top of the sixth on a perfectly executed suicide squeeze by Derek Weber (2021; uncommitted) at the plate. The two-run cushion did not last for long, though.

Kimberly’s bats went right back to work in the bottom of the sixth. An infield error put the first batter on and a walk and a hit by pitch loaded the bases with no outs. Drew Lechnir grounded into a fielder’s choice, but beat the throw to first to dodge the double play, scoring a run. In stepped Beau Schumacher (2019; Minnesota State) who powered Kimberly to their first lead of the day. He slugged a ball over the left field fence, scoring three runs, and handing the Papermakers a 9-7 lead.

Just like they had been all game, De Pere was relentless at the plate. In the top of the seventh, consecutive singles restarted a Redbirds rally and a sacrifice bunt put both runners into scoring position. In the next at-bat, a shallow fly ball to right wasn’t deep enough to allow a run to score and all of a sudden De Pere was down to their last out with Donaldson at the plate, after Kimberly opted to intentionally walk Semb to load the bases. Donaldson grounded a ball up the middle that couldn’t be corralled cleanly enough to secure the force out at second base. Schultz, still pitching, buckled down and coaxed a pop out in the infield to secure the win for Kimberly, 9-8.

GAME TWO

Like Kimberly, Preble got themselves into hot water immediately in the top half of their first inning, too. Preble deployed their ace Ryan Stefiuk (2020; Vanderbilt) but the lefty battled command issues throughout the frame and Hortonville snuck a couple of grounders through the infield which helped the Polar Bears score four quick runs.

A bases-loaded walk helped the Hornets get a run back in the bottom of the first, but Preble couldn’t help but be disappointed considering they were threatening for much more.

In the third, both teams traded runs. Mason Thiel (2020; uncommitted), Hortonville’s starter, singled to center to score his team’s fifth run, but Preble pulled it right back with the help of their star infielder Max Wagner (2020; Clemson) when he smacked a long solo home run to lead off the bottom of the frame.

Hortonville showed signs of pulling away in the fourth after Stefiuk walked a couple more, forcing Preble to relieve him with Bryce Miller (2019; Rock Valley JC), who allowed a couple of soft singles to push two more Polar Bears across the plate. Hortonville’s lead was up to five.

But the Hornets didn’t give in here. A walk and a double from Miller spurred their bats and Preble added three runs in the inning to pull themselves right back within two, 7-5.

A quick fifth led to an eventful fifth for the Hornets. Hortonville loaded the bases and were forced to face Wagner with nowhere to go. Reading his swing, he had every intention of giving his team the lead, but a fly ball to center was deep enough to score a run and he had to settle for that. With two outs, Josh Nicklaus (2019) grounded a clutch single that split the left side of the infield and brought home Preble’s tying run.

The Hornets decided it was time to unleash Wagner on the mound to preserve the tie and it led to a 1-2-3 inning, from both sides, which sent the game to extras.

In the eighth, Wagner pitched around a couple of singles by striking out the side and it allowed Preble to finally snag the lead, and win, in the bottom of the inning. An error in the infield put the walk-off run at second. Sophomore Connor Shefcik then squared to bunt to bring the runner a base closer to scoring, but pulled it back and chopped a grounder through the infield at the last second, sending the winning run all the way home to score and set up a meeting with Kimberly for the sectional title, and a trip to state, on the line.

GAME THREE

As dramatic as the first two games of the day had been, Max Wagner made sure there was significantly less in the sectional final. Having pitched the last two innings of his team’s first game of the day, Wagner was sent to start the second.

The Clemson commit was overpowering against the Papermakers bats. Kimberly had arguably their best scoring chance of the game in the first, after Nett and Drew Lechnir reached base on back-to-back singles, but Schumacher – the hero of Kimberly’s first game – smoked a line drive to third that was caught and it left Lechnir in no man’s land at first, doubling him off to end the threat.

From there, Wagner pretty much cruised. After allowing a lead-off double in the second, he retired 10 straight before pitching over another double in the fifth. He set down Kimberly in order in the sixth, his final inning of work, to finish the game with a line of six innings, four hits, no runs, one walk, and he struck out six.

And while Wagner was dominant from the mound, his bases-loaded, three-run triple in the third felt like a big blow early to Kimberly’s chances of heading to Grand Chute next week. With two outs, freshman Jake Petasek (uncommitted) earned another hard-fought walk in front of Wagner to load the bases, and he didn’t miss this time. Wagner punished a fastball to right-center this time that almost had the juice to get out. Instead, it landed just short of the fence to clear the bases with ease.

Preble added another run on a sacrifice fly in the fifth and Ben Graff’s (2020; uncommitted) RBI double in the top of the seventh felt like it was just going to be too much for Kimberly to rally to with three outs to go.

Bryce Miller relieved Wagner in the last frame, having pitched two clutch innings of relief the game prior, and slammed the door shut, retiring Kimberly in order, to earn Preble another trip to state next week.

For Kimberly, it was a phenomenal season, but not the way this memorable 2019 class wanted to go out. But, like they do, the Papermakers will restock and make it so they’re right back in the playoff picture in 2020.

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