It's been seven years since a Catholic Memorial baseball team last played in the WIAA summer baseball sectional, but CMH made its final shot in the summer baseball circuit a memorable one.
Extending the program's final season in summer baseball, CMH put a runner to at least third base in every inning, and Matthew Schulze limited Mukwonago over seven strong innings as Memorial recorded an 8-3 win over the Indians at Infinity Field in Waukesha on July 18.
The end of the line came in the semifinal Monday at Waukesha West, when Hamilton edged the Crusaders, 5-3. The ninth-seeded Chargers had upset top-seeded Marquette on Friday.
Crisp semifinal win
Playing close to error-less baseball, Memorial did not allow a Mukwonago run after the second inning, and Schulze retired 11 of the final 13 men he faced.
'I think this is probably the biggest game I've ever had,' Schulze said. 'There's a lot of fans here and a fair amount of pressure, I'd say. I was a little bit nervous those first couple innings, but once I got past that, I settled down.'
Schulze finished with six strikeouts, allowing nine hits but zero walks.
Mukwonago took a 3-1 lead after two innings, but CMH scored twice in each of the next three frames. Eric Brown, David McLeod and Jake Shomin all had RBI base hits, though Brown's run-scoring double represented the only extra-base hit of the night for CMH. The opportunistic Crusaders took advantage of the leadoff man aboard in all six innings, and only once via base hit, when Matthew Rechner singled to lead off the sixth for his third hit of the night.
'One thing we chart is a free base chart,' Mukwonago coach Jay Christiansen said. 'We lost the free base chart, 16-4. When you give them 16 free bases … a typical good game is 5 or 6 bases, whether it's a walk, and error, a passed ball. Sixteen in a playoff game against a team that hits .390, you're going to struggle. It wasn't like they exploded for doubles and triples and home runs, but give them credit, they took their free bases when they got them and put them in play.
'In high school baseball, your approach is you have to put pressure on the defense. From a defensive standpoint, you hope to make them earn everything.'
Mukwonago committed four errors – one in each of the final four innings – issued five walks, hit three batters and delivered three wild pitches. Once McLeod's single in the fourth gave his team the lead, the Crusaders never trailed again.
'This is probably the most complete game we've played all year in terms of pitching, hitting, fielding,' said Rechner, who scored twice to go along with his three hits and RBI. 'When we limit errors and put runs on the board, we're pretty hard to hit.'
Rechner, who hit .521 in league games with 33 RBIs in 21 contests, was named Classic 8 Conference Player of the Year and is one of eight seniors in the starting lineup.
'Last year, to my standards, I didn't think I had a great year, so I was really hungry this year,' he said. 'It feels good (to win Player of the Year), but I'd rather have a sectional championship.'
Mukwonago starter Brandon Parr, the team's top pitcher all season, held Memorial in check the last time he faced off with the Crusaders, and Mukwonago also won a 4-3 head-to-head battle in the final week of the regular season. But he never got comfortable Friday.
'When we see a pitcher a second time, I think we're better, like a lot of teams are,' Rechner said. 'We just had to come out with more energy than last time.'
Said CMH coach Tim Gotzler, '(Parr) is an exceptional player. Our guys were hungry. This is our fourth time playing them; there are no secrets anymore. We have a lot of familiarity with each other.'
After gutting out a 4-2 win over Brookfield East in the Tuesday playoff opener, this contest surprisingly represented the more relaxed of the two for the Crusaders.
'We played a complete game in all aspects,' Gotzler said. 'On Tuesday, we played a pressure-filled game in the first round of the playoffs, and I think that shook a lot of nerves for us and got us back to just playing baseball instead of thinking about mistakes and the magnitude of the game and the intensity. That helped us mentally slow ourselves down and just play the game we've played 31 times now.'
End of the road
Memorial had the right man at the plate when Rechner stepped to the plate in two key spots in the late going against Hamilton, but Chargers left-hander Alex Fischer induced a groundout with the bases loaded in the fourth of a 4-3 game and another in the sixth with runners at second and third and the score the same.
Memorial surrendered four runs in the third, all unearned when two fly balls to center field were dropped. In the fourth, Zach Fridl doubled to right and plated the second run of the inning to pull Memorial within 4-3, but Fischer shut down the bats thereafter until Hamilton added an insurance run in the sevent.
Chandler North finished with an RBI triple, Fridl had two hits, and Eric Brown reached base three times. Brown also started on the hill and did not allow an earned run but took the loss.
Memorial ultimately stranded six runners in scoring position in the final four innings alone and eight for the game. CMH finished 21-11.