Sixers end season with loss to Plover
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The Stevens Point Sixers American Legion Baseball team had its season come to a close with a loss to the rival Plover Black Sox in the AAA Region 2 Regional Tournament in Wisconsin Rapids Monday, July 23.
Point knocked off Wisconsin Valley Legion League (WVLL) co-Champion Wisconsin Rapids to open the double-elimination tournament Saturday, July 21, but fell 4-0 to reigning Regional Champion Wausau Sunday, July 22, to set up an elimination game against Plover Monday afternoon.
There, the Sixers fell behind early and were unable to recover, as they lost 7-1 to end their season at 12-16.
“Nobody wants to lose that way,” said first-year Sixers manager Caleb Bembenek. “But Plover came to hit, and they came ready to play.
“They’ve always got a good ballclub, so hat’s off to them, they did what they had to do,” he said. “We had a really good season, we had some ups and downs, but we’ll have a lot of returning guys next year.”
After losing at Rapids 12-3 June 21 and 11-1 at home to Rapids in the regular-season finale Tuesday, July 17, Point looked to pull a surprise against Rapids in its Regional opener Saturday night with pitcher JD Schultz earning the start on the mound.
An Honorable Mention All-State selection as a junior this spring for Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH), Schultz shut out Rapids for three innings, as the game remained tied at 0-0 in the top of the fourth inning, when Rapids led off with a double and scored on a two-out passed ball to take a 1-0 lead.
It stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth inning, when Point catcher Jacob Danielsen and shortstop Justin Morton had back-to-back two-out singles to put runners on first and second, when right fielder Zach Zimmerman hit a ground ball back to the mound.
However, the throw from the pitcher sailed over the head of the first baseman to allow Danielsen and Morton to score to give the Sixers a 2-1 lead, and center fielder Brady Franz reached on an error in the next at bat to score Zimmerman and increase the lead to 3-1.
Rapids had a two-out RBI single off Schultz in the top of the sixth to make it 3-2, while Reese Gaber came on to pitch in the top of the seventh and retired Rapids in order to earn the save in a 3-2 win.
Point manufactured three runs on three hits and three Rapids errors in the victory, while Schultz earned the win on the mound after he struck out four, walked four and allowed one earned run on six hits over six innings.
“That was really awesome,” said Bembenek of the win. “The hits were held to a minimum, the last couple of weeks we haven’t been hitting the greatest, but we pulled through and made something happen.
“And JD did phenomenal,” he said. “He had a great season for SPASH, we came into this summer knowing he was going to be our ace, and we tried to use him wisely and as sparingly as we could so a lot of teams wouldn’t see him, and he did an amazing job this year.”
“I really enjoyed playing that game,” said Schultz. “They were hitting off me, but I’m glad that my team had my back there, they were being a defense and stopping all of those hits, and we were all working together.”
The win sent the Sixers to play Sunday night against Wausau, which started future NCAA Division II Minot State (ND) pitcher Grant Hill on the mound.
The Sixers threatened in the bottom of the second inning when Schultz led off with a single and Hill fielded a bunt attempt from left fielder Legend Kieliszewski and threw it past the first baseman for an error that put runners on second and third with nobody out.
However, Hill got a fly out to shallow right field, a strikeout, and a groundout to end the inning, and Wausau answered with a RBI single in the top of the third inning off Point starter Nate Helms to take a 1-0 lead.
Wausau rallied again in the top of the fifth inning, as it scored on a wild pitch, a two-out error and a RBI single to increase its lead to 4-0, while Hill went on to close out a 4-0 shutout victory for Wausau, after he struck out three and walked none in a complete-game four-hitter.
Schultz went 2-for-3 to lead the Point offense, while Helms was saddled with the loss after he struck out two, walked one and allowed one earned run on five hits over five innings.
“Hill attacked the strike zone, and when pitchers give us some pitches to hit, we’ve got to hit them,” said Bembenek. “And when we have runners on, we’ve got to make it count.
“In the second inning we had second and third with no outs, and the next guy pops up, the next guy strikes out, and there you go, there’s all of the momentum going away from us,” he said.
The loss sent Point to an elimination game against Plover, after the two teams split a pair of meetings during the regular season, as Plover won 6-3 at home June 19, and the Sixers won 6-4 at home July 10.
Plover struck first Monday afternoon with a RBI double and a RBI double of Point starter Isaac Perner in the top of the second inning to take a 2-0 lead, then added a RBI single in the third to go up 3-0, and a RBI single and a sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth to increase its lead to 5-0.
Meanwhile, the Sixers were limited to a pair of singles through the first four innings, before Perner led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a double off Plover starter Brett Ehr, and Helms came through with a one-out RBI double to score Perner and make it 5-1.
The Black Sox came back with a pair of RBI singles in the top of the sixth inning off Kieliszewski to go up 7-1, and the Sixers were unable to rally late, as they fell 7-1 in a season-ending loss.
Perner allowed two earned runs on nine hits over four innings, while he went 2-for-3 with a double at the plate, and Helms added a double to lead the offense.
“The key to today’s game was hits,” said Bembenek. “Plover had 14 and we had six, and we had two costly errors that hurt us.”
With no 19-year olds on its roster and a number of seniors-to-be in the starting lineup this season, Point is expected to return an experienced group next year.
“I’m looking forward to next season,” said Schultz. “I hope that our team improves and we have stronger chemistry, and that our coaches will come back, because we have a strong chemistry with our coaches.
“We’re all spread out throughout central Wisconsin, from Amherst, Rosholt and Stevens Point, and I think the biggest thing that I enjoyed was everyone coming together as one team and working together,” he said. “All in all, it was a great team to be with, and I enjoyed playing with these guys.”
“We had a really young team,” said Bembenek. “We had great parents; we didn’t have too many complaints this year, so thanks to them for letting us do what we’ve got to do, and (general manager) Pat Perner did a great job helping us out, taking care of all of the fine-tuning stuff.
“I’m looking forward to next year,” he said. “Hopefully these guys work hard in the off-season, which I’m sure they will, and come back hungry next year.”