Middleton's HTL team storms to Final Four

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MTT News's picture
Adam Hatlan/For the Times-Tribune
Middleton’s Home Talent League team rolled past Reedsburg in the Northern Section’s title game Sunday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

The Middleton 29ers had one more hurdle to clear on Sunday if they wanted their fantastic season to continue: the hot-hitting Reedsburg Pirates.

Reedsburg, which features six players in their every-week lineup batting above .300, hit .322 as a team this season. That was sixth-best out of 44 Home Talent League teams.   

Unfortunately for Reedsburg, it had to face Middleton's offense, which ranked No. 1 in the league. Oh, and they had to face Drew Farrell.  

Middleton used a brilliant pitching performance from Farrell, had some timely hitting and tamed visiting Reedsburg, 7-1, to capture the Northern League Championship for the first time since 2013.

Middleton reserved a spot in the HTL Final Four, which begins Sunday. The 29ers open HTL play by traveling to Montello for a 1 p.m. game.

Stoughton and Dodgeville also qualified for the Final Four. The four teams all play each other in a round robin tournament over the next three weeks.

“It's been a battle to get back (to the final four),” Middleton manager Brandon Hellenbrand said. “Every team is going to be bringing their A-game. I’ve got the most confidence in my guys that they'll be ready to go on Sunday.”

Farrell shined on the mound against Reedsburg, tossing a complete game five-hitter. Farrell threw 110 pitches (72 strikes), allowed one run, struck out six and didn’t walk a batter.

Farrell was ahead of the Pirate hitters most of the game, throwing first-pitch strikes to 25 of the 34 batters he faced. He also retired 13 of the final 15 batters he faced, including a stretch of 11 in a row. 

“I really wasn't going for the strikeout pitch very often,” Farrell said of his strategy on the mound. “I knew if I could locate my cut-fastball and slider on the outside of the plate, we could get a lot of ground balls and a lot of pop-flies. And that's what happened.” 

Hellenbrand had nothing but praise for his pitcher after the game.

“Drew carried us. He went out there today and gave it his all,” Hellenbrand said. "When you get in the playoffs, you get an ace that you can start riding. We did it last week and we went right back to him today. He brought everything.”

Farrell has been on fire in the playoffs, appearing in all three games (two starts) and posting a sparkling 1.89 ERA. In 19 innings, Farrell has allowed 11 hits, struck out 11 and hasn't allowed a single walk in either of his starts.  

“There are better odds if you get ahead (in the count),” Farrell said. “Luckily every once in a while, when I would get down (in the count), I would still make my pitch and get outs.”

Reedsburg manager Tom Gavin knew his Pirates ran into a buzz saw on the mound in Farrell.

“We've had success a little bit against (Farrell) in the past,” Gavin said. “Our guys were a little bit frustrated because they couldn’t put the bat on the ball. He's as good as he was all year today.”

Brady Nehring started and took the loss for Reedsburg, going two innings while allowing seven hits and five earned runs.

Nehring, who appeared in six games for the Fond Du Lac Dock Spiders of the Northwoods League this past season, had trouble locating his pitches, allowing three walks. John Walsh pitched five innings and Shane Sosinsky threw the final inning in relief for Reedsburg.

“All of (Brady Nehring's) off-speed stuff was missing high. That’s a dangerous location against Middleton,” Gavin said. “Brady just didn't have it today.”

Farrell was one of the offensive leaders for Middleton, notching three hits and an RBI in the game. Middleton pounded out 15 hits and capitalized with runners on, tallying seven hits with runners in scoring position.

“We were able to get a lead early and we just kept it going,” Hellenbrand said. “Guys were doing a great job of moving runners. We got some timely hitting today. I can’t say enough about our guys.”

Middleton got its timely hitting started early, sending eight players to the plate in the first inning. Andrew Zimmerman, Brennan Schmitt and Alec Morrison all recorded RBI singles in the inning, and Ross Hellenbrand had a sacrifice fly to give Middleton a 4-0 advantage after one inning.

Brandon Scheidler, Josh Hinson, Zimmerman, and Schmitt all scored in the first for Middleton, which pounded out four hits and went 3-for-4 with runners in scoring position in the inning.

The second inning told a similar story, as Middleton sent seven batters to the plate. Hinson recorded an RBI single and Hellenbrand tacked on his second RBI of the game with a single to give Middleton a 6-0 lead after two.

Hinson and Scheidler each scored in the second, as Middleton had three hits, was 2-of-4 with runners in scoring position and chased Nehring from the game.

Middleton added its final run in the fourth on a run-scoring single by Farrell that plated Hellenbrand and gave the 29ers a 7-0 lead.

Reedsburg scored its lone run of the game in the fifth, as Durrell Naquin came around to score on a Lucas Muchow RBI single to pull the Pirates within 7-1.

Ross Hellenbrand went 3-for-4 with two RBI, while Scheidler (3-for-5) and Farrell (3-for-4) both had big offensive days, as well.

Reedsburg was seeking its first-ever trip to the Final Four, but instead fell to 0-5 in league championship games.

“We’ve got a good group of young guys. We had a good year," Gavin said. “Reedsburg has never gotten to the final four. Hopefully next year.”

Middleton's last appearance in the Final Four was 2013, which happens to be the last year they won it all. 

The 29ers must play two of their three games on the road, though, beginning with Montello. The Granite Jaxx finished the regular season 14-4 and are currently riding a seven-game win streak. Montello outscored its opponents, 130-62, during the regular season, hit .303 as a team and has two players batting .388. 

Middleton then heads to Southeast champ Stoughton on Sept. 3, then finishes with a home game against Western champ Dodgeville on Sept. 10.

For Hellenbrand and the 29ers, a championship is within their grasp. He believes they are a group that can get it done.

“We talked about having goals set for the year. The first one was getting the one seed, and the second one was to win the North,” said a determined Hellenbrand. “Our last goal is to go and win the whole thing. We’ve got the team that can do it.”

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