Marathon men reach end of line
West Allis Hale ousts New Berlin West from WIAA playoffs in sectional semifinal
When the nine-inning WIAA sectional semifinal battle between the West Allis Hale and New Berlin West baseball teams had finally ended early on the afternoon of July 20, the Huskies were happily jumping up and down in celebration and the Vikings were slowly walking off their own field in frustration.
The two teams, who had both fought hard and nobly over the last two and a half hours, felt wildly different emotions at that point, but they could at least share in the knowledge that they had been part of a truly classic playoff game.
Hale ultimately prevailed, 10-7, in a contest that featured four lead changes and two ties, along with 24 hits and countless big plays.
The duel included some explosive offensive efforts, such as Hale's Matt Herbstreith going 4-for-5 with five runs batted in and two scored, and West's Ben Dietrich finishing 3-for-5 with a home run and three runs scored.
It also featured gutty pitching performances by Hale's Ben Versnik (all nine innings, striking out eight) and West's John Riehle (8 1/3 innings and fanning nine, including five in a row at one point).
The game took as many twists and turns as a good mystery novel, but was ultimately decided in the bottom of the eighth and top of the ninth.
West, which finished 28-5, threatened in the eighth. Mack Daeda walked and took third on Al Ruiz' single to right-center. Rob Guertsen received a walk to load the bases with one out, and Tom DePons came to the plate.
DePons, who had earlier contributed a triple and a run-scoring double, attempted a squeeze bunt on a 1-0 pitch, but Versnik fielded the ball and tossed to catcher Eric Abel to get Daeda at the plate. The inning ended on a flyout to center by Steve Kirsch.
West coach Tom Farina said the bunt play was the result of a miscommunication.
"What I had told Tommy was, 'You get a strike, either a swinging or a called, and then after you have a strike, then the squeeze is on,'" he said. "He got ball one and just put the bunt down. He made a mistake, but he helped us get there with a couple of big bombs he hit earlier in the game. He was just trying to do what he thought was best, and it just didn't work out."
Hale (23-9 after the victory) then came up with four runs in the ninth. JoJo Meier walked, stole second and came home on Abel's triple to deep centerfield, his first hit of the game. Abel scored on Ryan Sanger's single up the middle and after an infield single by Versnik and a wild pitch, Herbstreith dropped a single into center to plate two more runs.
"He's been clutch all year," Hale coach Paul Dooley said of Herbstreith. "He puts the baseball in play and he hits it hard. He was fabulous."
Given a four-run lead, Versnik set out to finish off the Vikings in the ninth, but that did not happen easily. Dietrich singled and tallied on Erik Martwick's double to make the score 10-7 before a flyout to left ended the game.
Farina said the rally was typical of the Vikings. "Even when it looked like it was impossible to come back, they still never quit," he said. "They came back in that last inning and they gave us quality at-bats, put another run on the board and people on base."
Hale had captured the lead in the first when Herbstreith grounded a two-run single between first and second to plate Jeff Eckert and Versnik, who had both singled.
The Vikings came right back in their half of the inning with a bloop double by Dietrich, followed by infield hits by Mike Kluz, Martwick and Daeda.
West went up 3-2 in the second when DePons belted a triple to the centerfield wall and tallied on a grounder from Kirsch.
Riehle retired six straight hitters in the second and third, striking out five in a row.
"We knew that they were very aggressive swingers and liked to attack first-pitch fastballs," Farina said, "and John kept them off-balance most of the day with his off-speed, his change-ups and his curveballs."
The Huskies scored twice in the fourth on an RBI single by Herbstreith and run-scoring double from Adam Stenz, but West answered with two in its half of the frame for a 5-4 advantage. DePons doubled home Guertsen, who had singled, and came home on a squeeze by Kirsch.
West made the score 6-4 in the fifth on Dietrich's solo home run to right-center, but Hale tied it with two in the sixth. Herbstreith singled and tallied on an error, then Stenz singled to left to score Brandyn Riek, who had reached on the miscue.
Versnik then bore down on the mound, getting stronger with each inning.
"About the fifth inning, he took the ball and said, 'I'm the best player on the field,' and he showed it," Dooley said. "From the fifth inning on, he was as strong as he's been all year. He took control of the game. He said, 'This is my game. Jump on my back, boys, here we go.'"
He ultimately took the Huskies all the way to the sectional final game.
John Rech can be reached at (262) 446-6610 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A number of hitters enjoyed productive outings in West Allis Hale's 10-7 sectional baseball victory over New Berlin West on July 20. Among them were the following:
HALE: Adam Stenz, 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs … Ben Versnik, 2-for-4; Eric Abel, a key run-scoring triple in the ninth inning; Ryan Sanger, singled in the winning run in the ninth.
WEST: Tom DePons, 2-for-4 with a double, triple, two runs and an RBI; Mike Kluz, 2-for-5 with a run; Erik Martwick, 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
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