Sixers rally to win Firecracker Classic
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The Stevens Point Sixers American Legion Baseball team used a pair of late-inning rallies on the final day of the 47th Ed Kardach Firecracker Classic to knock off two of the Top 3 teams in the state and win their home tournament.
Down 2-0 in the bottom of the seventh inning in the Tournament Semifinals Sunday, July 7, the Sixers (13-6) came back for a 3-2 win over second-ranked Oshkosh, and then used a sacrifice fly in the top of the sixth inning to pull ahead for a 3-2 win over third-ranked Wisconsin Rapids in the Championship Game to claim the Firecracker Title for the first time since 2013.
“We went in, and I said, ‘it’s our home tournament, and we’re doing all we can to win this tournament,’” said Stevens Point manager Pat Perner. “And that’s what they did.
“It was outstanding, and I’ve never been so proud of these boys than I was today,” he said. “They battled back in that game against Oshkosh to pull it out, and just kept right on rolling and never gave up.”
After losing in the Tournament Semifinals a year ago, Stevens Point opened in Pool Play against Nekoosa Friday, July 5, where the Sixers scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning and two runs in the second inning to take a 5-0 lead.
Nekoosa scored three runs in the top of the third off Point reliever Justin Morton to pull within 5-3, but Morton had a two-run double in the bottom of the sixth inning to cap the scoring on a 7-3 win for Point.
Morton went 3-for-3 at the plate with two doubles and three RBI; Brady Franz was 2-for-3 with a double, two runs scored and two RBI; and Zach Zimmerman went 2-for-2 with three runs scored to lead the offense, while Morton earned the win on the mound after he struck out seven, walked one and allowed three earned runs on five hits in four and 2/3 innings.
“Everybody’s been hitting the ball hard,” said Zimmerman. “Some of them have been finding holes, some of them haven’t, but everybody’s just been putting pretty good at bats together and we’ve been playing good baseball.”
The Sixers closed out Pool Play against Beaver Dam Saturday, July 6, where the game was tied 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Isaac Cychosz had a RBI groundout and Franz followed with a RBI single to give Point a 3-1 lead.
Nate Helms added a RBI single in the bottom of the fifth and Morton had a sacrifice fly in the sixth to increase the lead to 5-1, and Point went on to a 5-2 victory to win Pool B and advance to the Tournament Semifinals Sunday.
Franz and Helms both went 2-for-3 with a double, and Isaac Perner was 2-for-3, while Helms allowed two earned runs on three hits, struck out four and walked four over seven innings for the complete-game win on the mound.
“Beaver Dam is a solid ballclub, they are fundamentally very sound, and they’re very aggressive at the plate,” said Pat Perner. “I knew that they were going to be trying to put the bat on the ball, so we needed to have one of our top pitchers there, and Nate did a great job.”
With a trip to the Championship Game on the line, the Sixers took on reigning Firecracker Champion Oshkosh Sunday, where the game remained deadlocked at 0-0 into the top of the sixth inning.
Ranked second in the state in AAA in the Wisconsin Baseball Central Legion midseason rankings last week, Oshkosh scored on a bases-loaded walk by Point starter JD Schultz and scored another run on an error to take a 2-0 lead.
Point loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the sixth inning but came up empty after Oshkosh got an infield fly and back-to-back strikeouts to escape the jam.
“We get the bases loaded, we have the three, four, five coming up, and it doesn’t happen for us, and they could’ve hung their heads and just kind of folded right there,” said Pat Perner. “And I told them that, ‘JD did his part, he got us here, he kept us here, now we need to do something for him and make it work.’
“And they went out and did it,” he said.
The Sixers responded in the bottom of the seventh inning, as they loaded the bases with one out, when Zimmerman came through with a RBI single to left field to score Jacob Danielsen and make it 2-1.
Franz followed with a groundball past the shortstop that went into left field to score Reese Gaber and Cychosz, as the Sixers advanced to the Championship Game with a walk-off, 3-2 victory.
“We had runners on third and second and I was really just trying to put the ball in play hard somewhere,” said Franz. “And with the (infield) being up, I managed just to put it really hard in the ground and get it past him.”
Cychosz went 2-for-3, Zimmerman was 2-for-4, Franz had two RBI, and Gaber added a double to lead a nine-hit effort for the Sixers, while Schultz struck out nine, walked three and allowed one earned run on four hits over seven innings to earn the complete-game victory.
The win sent Point to take on Rapids in the Championships Game later Sunday afternoon, where Gaber threw four shutout innings, as the score remained tied at 0-0 heading into the top of the fifth inning.
There, Helms reached on an infield single with two outs, and Gaber followed with a fly ball that went over the head of the Rapids right fielder, who fell down on the play.
Helms came in to score, and Gaber raced around the basepaths to cross home plate standing up with an inside-the park home run that gave the Sixers a 2-0 lead.
“I thought it could’ve had a chance to go out, I hit one out in Antigo and I thought maybe it had a chance,” said Gaber. “But after I got to second, I didn’t really see the ball, I was just watching coach (Perner), and I guess I got an inside-the-park home run.”
Ranked third in the state in AAA in the Wisconsin Baseball Central Legion midseason rankings last week, Rapids answered in the bottom of the fifth, as Caleb Krommenakker had a RBI triple off Gaber with one out and scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at 2-2.
The Sixers came back in the top of the sixth inning, as Franz led off with a double and advanced to third on a bunt single from Isaac Perner, then scored on a sacrifice fly from Schultz to give Point a 3-2 lead.
It stayed that way into the bottom of the seventh inning, when Krommenakker had a two-out double off Perner to put the tying run on second base, but Zimmerman raced back and hauled in a fly ball just short of the warning track in left field for the final out to give the Sixers the Firecracker Title with a 3-2 win.
“It feels great,” said Isaac Perner. “We always try to come out here and perform our best in front of our home crowd.
“And taking four straight to take the tournament here was pretty good,” he said.
Gaber had a home run and two RBI to lead the offense and also earned the win on the mound after he struck out six, walked one and allowed two earned runs on seven hits over six innings, while Perner allowed one hit in the seventh to record the save.
The Firecracker Title was Point’s first since 2013, when then-assistant coach Steve Pratt filled in for Luke Suchon over the last part of the weekend to guide the Sixers to their record third consecutive Firecracker Championship.
“We’ve been hitting the ball pretty good lately, but the biggest thing that I’ve noticed is the errors,” said Franz. “The game before the Championship, we had (one error), and this game we had zero, and that’s really making a difference.”
“It was a great weekend, and I’m just proud of all the boys, they all did a great job,” said Pat Perner. “Team wins all the way around.”