West Allis - Neatly combining "small-ball" with power, the West Allis Nighthawks tallied five runs in the sixth inning to turn a 5-3 deficit into an 8-5 lead, then went on to down North Shore, 11-5, in a Land O' Lakes playoff game on Sunday.
It srarted when Joe Schreck and Jason Brooks both singled to lead off the sixth and advanced on a sacrifice bunt by David Henke. The bunting strategy is not usually part of the Nighthawks' game plan.
"We got the first two runners on and moved them over with a nice bunt, something we don't usually do," admitted manager Andy Schwall. "It paid off, though."
Ryan Welch singled in one run and Joel Hoberg hit a sacrifice fly to bring in Brooks to tie the game.
"Once we got it back to even, we felt like it was a new game, and we had the momentum," Schwall said.
West Allis then went back to its more familiar power game. Brian Stoecklein belted a two-run home run for a 7-5 advantage, then Schwall and Scott Sievert hit back-to-back doubles to make it 8-5.
"Stoecklein's home run sealed the game for us," Schwall said. "It gave us the lead back and really seemed to take the wind out of their sails. We felt pretty good at that point."
The Nighthawks added three in the seventh on a fielder's choice from Henke, run-scoring single by Hoberg and sacrifice fly from Stoecklein, who finished with four runs batted in for the day.
"It was during the playoffs last year that Stoecklein caught fire," Schwall recalled. "I think he hit five home runs during the postseason. We're hoping this is a sign of things to come for him."
West Allis had taken a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a sacrifice fly from Schwall, but North Shore rallied for five runs in the top of the third.
Adam Fritsch lined a three-run home run and Brian Michilica singled in two more runs, but all the runs were unearned due to three Nighthawk errors.
"We had a meltdown defensively," Schwall said. "We kept giving them extra opportunities. Give them credit, because they took advantage of our mistakes and had us down early. I thought we were close to losing our composure and hitting the panic button."
West Allis tallied two runs in the bottom of the third on Stoecklein's sacrifice fly and Schwall's run-scoring groundout to cut the deficit to 5-3.
"I think scoring a couple runs the next half-inning settled everyone down," the manager said. "We felt that if we could avoid giving away runs, our bats were eventually going to get the job done."
That is exactly what happened in the crucial sixth inning.
Schreck finished 3-for-5, while Hoberg had two hits and two RBIs, Welch two hits and one RBI, Schwall a double and two RBIs and Sievert a double and RBI.
Cuyler Franzke pitched the full nine innings, allowing seven hits and striking out six.
"Cuyler didn't have his strikeout stuff, but he had the heavy sinker working," Schwall said. "He got a ton of grounders and really settled in after their big inning. He was on cruise control from the fourth inning on. I think his settling down really gave us the confidence that we would eventually come back."
The Nighthawks advance to take on New Berlin in a three-game series that began on Wednesday night. The teams will meet at Malone Park in New Berlin at noon Sunday, with the deciding game to follow, if necessary.
"It should be a fun series," Schwall said. "The last couple of years, we've played some really close, entertaining games with (New Berlin). I'm not expecting anything different this time around."
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