Ashton ousts Middleton's HTL team

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Dennis Semrau/Special to the Times-Tribune
Aaron Gowan and Ashton’s Home Talent League team were all smiles after defeating Middleton Sunday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Tanner Meinholz spent the early part of the season on the bench, biding his time and waiting to play for defending Home Talent League champion Ashton.

On Sunday, Meinholz delivered a clutch hit when Ashton needed him the most.

Meinholz lined a two-out, two-run single to center field in the top of the ninth inning to help rally Ashton to a 5-3 victory over host Middleton in an HTL Northern Sectional championship game at Sorrenson-Bakken Field.

The victory sent Ashton (13-6) into in the league’s Final Four round-robin championship series next Sunday at Monona.

“Tanner was a guy who didn’t play in the beginning of the year, but we had some guys getting hurt and some who couldn’t play anymore,” said Shane Adler, who started in center field but pitched the final four innings to pick up the victory for Ashton. “Tanner stepped up and has been doing a heck of a job in the middle of our lineup. It’s awesome to see him have success.”

Meinholz was ready to make an impact when Ashton lost shortstop Garret Novinski, the HTL’s Most Valuable Player last season, who moved to Arizona for a teaching job late in the regular season.

“We talked before the game that this was our title to defend,” Meinholz said. “We’re still in it. We’ve still got a chance to defend it.”

Derek Prochaska blasted a one-out double to right field — his third hit of the game — to open the ninth inning. Prochaska moved to third base when Kasey Miller singled to left field. Miller took second base on defensive indifference.

Meinholz then lined a 1-1 pitch up the middle off right-hander Drew Farrell to cap the scoring and set off a wild celebration in the Ashton dugout.

“It was nerve-wracking in that situation, but I was calmer than I thought I’d be,” said Meinholz, who took over in left field when Miller moved to third base and Aaron Gowan took over at shortstop after Novinski’s departure opened a spot in the lineup. “I knew I had a job to do. With Derek (Prochaska) on third, I just had to put the bat on the ball and find a gap.”

Farrell’s availability was questionable until game-time due to an illness. But he threw 144 pitches in recording a complete-game.

“He gutted it out and went out there and let the adrenaline take over,” Middleton manager Brandon Hellenbrand said of Farrell, who struck out seven, scattered 12 hits and walked three. “I didn’t think he had his best stuff. I thought he had good enough stuff to win.

“But hats off to him. He shows up every week and he gives it his all whether he is under the weather or not.”

Middleton (16-3) staked Farrell to an early lead when Ross Hellenbrand launched a solo home run to straight-away center field with one out in the second inning, and Luke Schafer added an RBI single in the third for a 2-0 advantage.

Ashton loaded the bases in the fourth before Meinholz hit a line drive that Hellenbrand snared at first and doubled off Josh Adler for an inning-ending double play.

“He’s been a great pitcher for us all year. He’s been doing an outstanding job of keeping us in the ballgames,” Ross Hellenbrand said of Farrell. “It just came down to us not making enough plays for him.”

Middleton extended its lead to 3-0 in the fifth when Andrew Zimmerman had a lead off single to right field, moved to second on a wild pitch, took third on Schafer’s infield single and scored on Kevin Dubler’s sacrifice fly.

But that was all the offense that the 29ers could muster against Ashton starter Kevin Peternell, who allowed seven hits and one walk in five innings before Shane Adler allowed only two base runners the rest of the way.

“We were able to keep their hitters off balance,” Ashton manager Dave Adler said. “We talked about their big three, their one, three and four hitters (Brandon Scheidler, Dubler and Josh Hinson). We controlled their big guys which really helped us.” 

Ashton left four base runners in scoring position through the first five innings before it tied the game with a three-run sixth inning. Jackson Keeler delivered a run-scoring single before back-to-back infield errors added a pair of unearned runs.

“You have to take advantage of the other team’s mistakes when they make them, especially a team like Middleton which doesn’t make a whole lot of them,” Gowan said. “Luckily, Tanner came through with the clutch hit at the end after we had tied it up.”

While the 29ers had plenty of chances to secure their second trip to the Final Four in three years, they weren’t able to put Ashton away.

“I know they had a couple misplays on their end that hurt them a little bit,” Brandon Hellenbrand said. “But our misplays hurt us even more. They were able to capitalize and get three runs in the sixth inning and we probably should have been out of it and kept the lead.”

Meinholz drew a leadoff walk in the eighth inning and Keeler reached base on a single to left-center field after Middleton outfielders Scheidler and Hinson collided while attempting to corral a fly ball.

But Farrell retired the next three batters to keep Ashton at bay.

“I didn’t sleep much last night. I was throwing up,” said Farrell, who refused to use his illness as an excuse. “Once I got warming up, the adrenaline kicked in and I said I’d go as long as I can. Once the adrenaline kicked in, I felt better.”

Ross Hellenbrand ripped a double against Shane Adler in the bottom of the eighth inning to put the potential lead run in scoring position.

But Miller snared Cole Cook’s liner at third base for the second out and Gowan ranged up the middle to field a sharply hit ground ball and retire A.J. Redders at first to silence the 29ers final scoring threat.

Miller made a bare-handed pick-up and threw to first to nip Eric Simon, before throwing out Zimmerman on another ground ball for the first two outs in the ninth. Shane Adler then got Scheidler on a called third-strike to end the game.

“The old saying is defense wins championships and you can put our defense up against any defense in the league,” Prochaska said. “Shane (Adler) gave us a little pep talk in the eighth and it kind of relaxed everybody. He told us to just go out and play baseball and have fun and we’ll be fine.”

Peternell said Ashton’s playoff experience a year ago was crucial in holding off Middleton, which won the 2013 HTL title.

“That taught us we can be here as a team. We knew what we could do. We came back here ready to win,” Peternell said. “The crowd was crazy today. It was awesome. You’ve got to tip your hat to them and to Middleton because they played a great game. It was electric. That last inning gave me chills when the crowd was roaring and clapping.”

Shane Adler, who helped lead UW-La Crosse to a runner-up finish in the NCAA Division III Championship series last spring, was happy to help Ashton earn a return trip to the HTL Final Four.

“We started off 1-4 and everyone thought ‘Oh, boy, are we done or what?’ ” Adler said. “But it doesn’t matter how you start the year, it’s how you finish the year.”

Now, Ashton will finish in the Final Four once again.


Ashton …………… 000 003 002 — 5 12 0

Middleton …………… 011 010 000 — 3  9  4

Pitching (IP-H-ER-BB-K): Ashton – Peternell (5-7-3-1-1), S. Adler (W, 4-2-0-0-4). Middleton – Farrell (L, 9-12-3-3-7).

Leading hitters: Ashton – Prochaska (3x5), Keeler (2x5), Miller (2x4). Middleton – L. Schafer (3x4), Hellenbrand (2x4).

2B – Prochaska 2, Maier, Hellenbrand, Cook. HR – Hellenbrand.

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