West Allis - The somewhat surprising and eventful run by the West Allis Nighthawks through the Land O' Lakes baseball playoffs came to an end on Sunday afternoon.
They lost to the Cedarburg Mercs, 11-8, in an elimination game of the Grand Championships at Behling Field in Cedarburg. West Allis' season ended at 18-13, while the Mercs have advanced to the championship contest against Brookfield on Sunday.
All through the playoffs, the Nighthawks overcame adversity of all kinds - playing three teams that finished above them in the Eastern Division, facing several daunting deficits, including 9-1 in the ninth inning against New Berlin; and having to play so-called 'home' games on the fields of both Brookfield and Cedarburg because West Allis could not secure a field of its own.
In the end, though, West Allis could not overcome the absence of six players, including three starters, in Sunday's game against the Mercs. The Nighthawks had just nine players in uniform for the game.
Yet, typically, they battled to the end against the talented and playoff-savvy Mercs.
They jumped to a 6-0 lead after two innings on a run-scoring double by Brian Stoecklein in the first inning and a five-run burst in the second, keyed by a two-run single from John Stetzenbach and a three-run home run from Stoecklein to left-center field, the deepest area of the ballpark.
Cedarburg used a pair of three-run innings to tie it in the fifth, but West Allis answered in its half of the inning with two runs, the first coming in on a single by Scott Sievert. Jason Brooks doubled and Sievert was thrown out at the plate, but Brooks scored when the ball was thrown wildly past third base.
The Mercs tallied three in the top of the seventh for a 9-8 lead. Robby Proehl drove in one with a sacrifice fly, Ross Zahour singled to bring in another run and a third tallied on a two-out error.
Cedarburg made it 11-8 in the ninth on RBI singles from Nick Boehnlein and Brian Bert, and this time, the Nighthawks could not answer.
Stoecklein, whose return to the team in July provided a big spark, went 2-for-5 with a double, home run and four RBIs, while Stetzenbach drove in two runs and Andy Schwall and Ryan Welch each had two hits.
Alex Tomter, who relieved Mike Thrun in the fourth, took the loss.
"We hit the ball, but Cedarburg hit the ball just as well," manager Andy Steinbrenner said. "We made five errors, some of which were because we had guys out of position (due to the absences). When we made a mistake, they made us pay for it."
Despite the loss, Steinbrenner looked back with pride on the playoff run and the first trip ever to the Grand Championship series for the Nighthawks.
"It was a really good run, a lot of fun," he said. "Everybody started to click and play well at the end of the year. Everyone pitched well, especially Tomter and Thrun."
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