Defensive gem lifts Pacelli in regional championship
By Jacob Heid
STEVENS POINT – After winning to stay alive in the regional semifinal on May 30, Pacelli was a win away from achieving the goal they had made at the beginning of the season.
The Cardinals, led by senior Brock Birrenkott on the mound, came away with a 2-0 shutout win over No. 3-seeded Gibraltar/Washington Island.
It is Pacelli’s first sectional appearance since the 2018 season.
“Last year, losing that first game was tough. Our guys came out [this year] and they’ve been playing good ball in the playoffs,” Coach Wayne Sankey said directly after the win. “Playing good defense, giving up hardly any runs and just scoring enough to win.”
Sankey put his only two seniors on the mound and behind the plate in the elimination game. Tim Sackmann did the catching for Birrenkott.
Birrenkott fired all seven innings, striking out 10 batters on his journey to a win.
The Pacelli offense got going early, putting runners on second and third with one out.
Vikings pitcher Noah Greene stuck out junior Asher Jordan and forced Birrenkott to ground out, stranding two on base as the inning ended.
Pacelli finally put a run on the board in the bottom of the third to break the 0-0 tie.
Sackmann reached second base off of an error on a routine ground ball to the second baseman.
Peyton Flees scored Sackmann on an RBI single to left field, putting the Cardinals up 1-0.
The Vikings pressured with two on in the fourth, but Pacelli’s defense kept the shutout intact.
Birrenkott continued his dominance, striking out the side in the fifth and freezing a batter in the sixth for a strikeout to end the inning with a runner on second.
“Brock threw really well today. He was getting ahead of the count. It seemed like he was 0-2 on every guy,” Sankey said about his senior’s performance. “Even when he went to three-ball counts, maybe two or three times, he battled back and took care of business. Hand it to your seniors. Those are the guys you expect to come up big in those types of situations.”
An insurance run crossed the plate in the sixth after Pacelli loaded the bases with no outs and walked home a run.
Birrenkott put down the Vikings in order in the seventh, ending the game with his 10th strikeout.
The No. 2-seeded Cardinals travel to Tucker Westfall Memorial Field in Athens to face No. 5-seeded Iola-Scandinavia at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Jun. 6.
The winner will play in the sectional final game at 4 p.m. that same day for a chance at state.