Panthers punch ticket to state after difficult sectional
By Jacob Heid
MARSHFIELD – On what can be described as high school baseball’s longest day, the SPASH baseball team survived to win two games on Jun. 6 and advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2014.
The Panthers consistently applied offensive pressure in the sectional semifinal, beating No. 5-seeded River Falls 5-1.
A date with No. 2-seeded Hudson in the sectional final didn’t start as planned, but SPASH crawled back to win 6-5 via a walk-off.
Junior Ty Rechner started in game one, while senior Josh Opiola took the mound in game two.
Game 1 – SPASH 5, River Falls 1
River Falls kept SPASH on its toes in the opening two frames, putting runners in scoring position but didn’t score.
The No. 1-seeded Panthers pounced first in the bottom of the first inning.
Senior catcher Deacan Koback found the deep outfield grass with two outs, ending in a triple.
His pinch runner, Jacob Garth, scored shortly thereafter on a passed ball.
A 1-0 game held until the bottom half of the third.
With runners on first and second, a throwing error from River Falls’ third baseman allowed another Panther run to score.
SPASH had a 2-0 lead after three innings.
Rechner put River Falls down in order in the fourth before giving up the first run on an RBI single in the fifth.
After turning a nice double play to end the frame, SPASH retaliated with two runs in the fifth.
An RBI double by senior Devin Mrozek led the way to a 5-1 advantage with two innings to play.
A quiet sixth led to a River Falls surge in the seventh.
Putting runners on the corners with two outs, SPASH pulled Rechner after 100 pitches.
Junior Jaxon Stetler came in, getting the final out to secure a spot in the sectional championship game.
Game 2 – SPASH 6, Hudson 5
After watching Hudson put up 13 runs in the sectional semifinal, senior Josh Opiola had a tough task ahead of him.
Hudson punched the Panthers in the mouth early, scoring two runs in the first and three in the second to take a 5-0 lead. That’s all you’d hear from the Raider offense.
Opiola held them scoreless in the final five frames.
The Panthers remained optimistic and calmly responded in the home half of the second.
A sacrifice fly scored one run, and a wild pitch punched in the other.
Senior Kale Roth was a big part of the win and joined the fun in the fourth inning.
An RBI by Roth and Koback electrified the Panthers, putting them within a run, 5-4.
SPASH left two on base in the fifth but didn’t let that deter them.
Roth found first base again in the sixth, this time making an even larger splash.
The senior found his way to third and scored on a close play at the plate after a ground ball.
With the game at a 5-5 tie, Opiola and the Panther defense got through the top half of the seventh with no new deficit.
SPASH got two runners on, and Hudson intentionally walked senior Carl Biechler to load the bases with one out.
Already having himself a multi-hit day, senior Benett Klish drove a fly ball to left that got deep enough to score the game-winning run.
With the comeback win, SPASH travels to Appleton for the state tournament starting Monday, Jun. 12.
Pacelli and Amherst also played in sectionals. Both fell in the sectional final game in their respective division.
The Falcons lost 2-0 to No. 2-seeded Kiel, while the Cardinals lost to Edgar, 2-1, in eight innings.