Baseball Cards win share of Big 8 title

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Zach Shipley and Middleton's baseball team won a share of their first Big 8 Conference title since 2010./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

MADISON — The unsuspecting manager had just finished waxing poetically about his now championship team.

He took two steps to his left, realized he was a sitting duck, then was attacked by a group of teenagers with a water bucket.

Getting soaked never felt better for Tom Schmitt.

Middleton’s baseball team cruised to a 10-3 win over Madison East at Warner Park last Thursday. The Cardinals improved to 18-6 overall, 15-3 in the Big Eight Conference and clinched a share of their first league title since 2010.

Afterwards, Middleton’s players and assistant coaches lingered as Schmitt handled his media responsibilities. But when Schmitt finished those duties, his team pounced like they would on a 3-0 fastball.

And that was just fine with Schmitt.

“Well, it’s huge,” Schmitt said of winning the league.” These guys have worked hard at it, focusing on this group of guys and this team. Not many people thought they had a chance to do this except for them. And when they got the wins early in the year, that really opened some eyes and made them believe even more.

“They stayed focused throughout the year and put themselves in position for a conference title. So I’m real happy how the guys and the 13 seniors worked together to get it. And to get it for the first time in eight years, it’s big.”

It was especially big after a 2017 season where Middleton went a disappointing 14-14.

Although the Cardinals returned the majority of that team, few thought there was enough talent to jump to the top of the Big Eight. In fact, Middleton was picked to finish fourth in the conference this preseason.

But the Cardinals won three of four games when they faced high-level competition on an early trip to St. Petersburg. Middleton defeated perennial league and state power Sun Prairie in its first Big Eight game of the season. The Cardinals then beat three-time conference champion Janesville Craig less than three weeks later.

The early success made believers out of Middleton and many of its followers. And the Cardinals played steady, and at times spectacular baseball throughout a memorable regular season.

“This is huge for me and huge for the team,” Middleton senior shortstop Alan Roden said. “I feel great right now, being able to win my first conference championship. It’s really great to get it with the guys I’ve been growing up with my whole life.

“It’s a good group. It’s your guys. This is everyone. It’s all of us. And I think if we keep doing that, we can do something special.”

Senior first baseman Carsen Schulz agreed.

“Last year going 14-14 was tough and we knew we had a better team than we showed last year,” Schulz said. “But this year all offseason we talked about our potential and it feels amazing.”

Middleton had a handful of standout performances in its conference-clinching win over East.

Schulz drove in three runs, while Roden was 2-for-2 with two doubles, two RBI and two runs scored. That continued Roden’s brilliant season in which he led the Big Eight in hitting and made a seamless transition from catcher to shortstop.

“What he did this year is special,” Schmitt said of Roden. “I don’t know any kid in the conference at this caliber hitting the ball right now.

“You can pitch him in and he’ll turn on it. You can pitch him away and he’ll take it the other way. It’s a good approach to hitting and everybody should learn from it just by watching him and I think they do that. It’s a lot of fun to see him go up to the plate because he’s capable of hitting it in the gap, he’s capable of hitting a hard line drive through the middle. It’s a lot of fun.”

Adam Casali continued his late-season surge by going 3-for-3 with three runs scored, while second baseman Joel Ticknor went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. Luke Ballweg went 2-for-3, while Noah Casali had a double and a run scored.

Pitcher Matt Ballweg was also terrific, blanking the Purgolders for five innings. Matt Ballweg struck out five, threw first pitch strikes to 15 of the 18 batters he faced (83.3%), allowed just three hits and picked two runners off of first base.

“When you have three pitches, it makes you a good starting pitcher and Matt has that,” Schmitt said. “He had some good movement on his fastball that made it miss barrels and catch corners.”

Middleton’s first four batters reached safely and the Cardinals jumped to a 2-0 lead.

Ticknor opened the game with a double to the gap in left-center field. Roden walked and left fielder Luke Ballweg singled up the middle to load the bases.

Schulz then singled up the middle to score both Ticknor and Roden to give Middleton a 2-0 lead. East starter Sam Heiman worked out of the jam, though, without further damage.

“Our goal was to get on them right out of the gate,” Schulz said. “I’ve noticed in the first inning if we can score runs, it’s big. Our first six, seven hitters have been doing it all year in the first inning, first two innings getting us on the board right away.”

The Cardinals added two more runs in the second and stretched their lead to 4-0.

Noah Casali reached on an error to open the inning and went to second on Cooper Holewinski’s single to right. Adam Casali laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt that moved the runners to second and third.

Ticknor hit a deep sacrifice fly to right that scored Noah Casali and made it 3-0. Then Roden sat on a hanging curve and drove it to the wall in right for a double that plated Holewinski.

Zach Shipley had a one-out single in the third and pinch runner Nick Michaels stole second. Then with two outs, third baseman Noah Casali drove a ball 350-feet off the wall in left center for a double that scored Michaels and made it 5-0.

The Cardinals had four hits and scored two more runs in the fourth and surged to a 7-0 lead.

Adam Casali had a leadoff single and scored two batters later when Roden doubled to right field. Roden’s bat was a classic as he drove three balls at least 300 feet down the line in right, only to see them all go foul by just a few feet. After narrowly missing out on a home run three times, Roden ripped a double instead.

“It’s probably my best stretch of consistent hitting and hitting the ball hard,” Roden said of his standout season. “Even if it is an out, I’m hitting it hard. That’s what you try to do every time.

“And even if you do make out, you can’t come away from that at bat saying, ‘That was a bad at bat.’ I’m seeing the ball well, hitting the ball well and that leads to hits. Luckily I’ve gotten a lot of those this year.”

Luke Ballweg’s single to right sent Roden to third. Roden then scored on a sacrifice fly by Schulz that gave the Cardinals a 7-0 lead.

Middleton pushed its lead to 9-0 with two runs in the fifth. Adam Casali’s RBI single scored Noah Casali. Adam Casali later scored on a base hit by Dylan Carrington.

Schmitt began clearing his bench in the fifth inning, allowing many of his top players to savor the final outs of an eventual conference title — a title few thought was possible except the Cardinals themselves.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Schmitt said. “I think they learned from their mistakes. They matured, got stronger, grew closer together and there’s a lot of talent. They knew that and they wanted to come out and play like they were capable.”

• Middleton 10, Madison East 0 (5) — Brady Schmitt threw four scoreless innings and picked up the win as the Cardinals cruised in a game stopped by the 10-run mercy rule last Tuesday. Schmitt struck out five and allowed just three hits.

Alan Roden went 2-for-3 with two doubles and two RBI to lead the offense. Cooper Holewinski went 3-for-3 with a double, two runs scored and two RBI.

Zach Shipley went 2-for-3 with two RBI, while Carsen Schulz and Adam Casali both had two hits and an RBI.

Schulz, who suffered an arm injury last year, also worked a scoreless fifth inning in his first pitching outing of the season.

• Middleton 6, DeForest 0 — Logan Schultz and Ben Collier combined to throw a five hit shutout last Saturday.

Schulz allowed just three hits, struck out two and walked one in five innings. Collier struck out four, allowed two hits and no walks in the final two innings.

• Wilmot 6, Middleton 5 — Luke Ballweg went 3-for-4 and had an RBI for the Cardinals, but it wasn’t enough last Saturday. Adam Casali also went 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored.

Brady Schmitt took the loss for Middleton, allowing five runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings.

 

 

MIDDLETON 10, MADISON EAST 0

Madison East...... 000 00 — 0 3 0

Middleton........... 122 32 — 10 14 0

Pitchers (ip-h-er-bb-so) — Larkin (1.1-7-5-1-0), Perez (L; 3-7-5-5-0); Schulz (1-0-0-1-1); Schmitt (W; 4-3-0-1-5).

Leading hitters — MID: Roden 2x3, Schulz 2x2, Shipley 2x3, Holewinski 3x3, Casali 2x3.

2B — Roden2, Schulz, Casali, Holewinski2, Lamson.

 

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