Cross Plains' HTL team ousts Middleton

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Dennis Semrau/For the Times-Tribune
Cross Plains’ Will Doherty (11) is greeted by teammates after homering Sunday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

It has been a long wait for Kenny Allen and the Cross Plains Businessmen.

Since winning the 2011 Home Talent League Sunday championship, there have been some close calls, but no more trips to the league’s final round of four teams.

Until now.

Allen tossed a complete game and had two hits, Will Doherty hit a solo home run and sixth-seeded Cross Plains played outstanding defense to hold off second-seeded Middleton, 2-1, in the HTL Northern Section championship game at Sorenson-Bakken Field on Sunday.

“Kenny pitched all but four innings and we played the top three teams,” said Cross Plains manager Randy Meinholz, who was fighting back the tears after the Businessmen won their third straight playoff game on the road.

“But it’s not only pitching. The defense was unbelievable. I’m so damn proud of these guys.”

Cross Plains (10-9) will play at Verona (17-2), the Western Section champion, Sunday at 1 p.m. Verona defeated West Middleton 8-2 to qualify for the HTL Final Four.

Evansville (16-2), the Southeast champion, will host Cottage Grove (13-7), the Eastern champion, in the other first-round matchup in the round-robin tournament.

After blanking third-seeded Mazomanie 1-0 in 10 innings in the first round and top-seeded Sauk Prairie, 4-0, last week, the Businessmen held Middleton scoreless until the 29ers plated an unearned run with two outs in the sixth inning.

But that was the only offense the 29ers (15-4) could muster.

“Kenny did a good job,” Middleton manager Brandon Hellenbrand said of Allen. “He came right at us, but at the same time I thought we hit him well. We had eight hits and outhit them. We just hit balls hard right at people. It wasn’t our day, and they made some big plays.”

The Businessman, who lost nine of 11 games after a 3-0 start, are riding a five-game winning streak.

“The more you start making plays, the more you keep making plays,” said Allen, who tossed 96 pitches, including 67 for strikes.

Allen said he relied on his two-seam fastball to keep the 29ers off-balance.

“He spots up real well all the time,” Cross Plains catcher Will Doherty said of Allen. “You never have to worry about that.”

Allen retired 14 of 16 batters spanning the third through eighth innings. He stranded five runners in scoring position thanks to the sparkling defense behind him.

“We had a rough patch in the middle of the year, but we believed in each other,” said Cross Plains designated hitter Richard Sarbacher, who also played on the 2011 title team. “It takes the whole team to win and up to this point it’s really been a team effort.

“But Kenny’s been the sparkplug and the rock for this team. We can always depend on him to pitch well. He’s a tough at bat, too.”

Doherty gave Cross Plains an early 1-0 lead when he crushed left-hander Ross Hellenbrand’s curve ball over the left field fence with two outs in the top of the first inning.

“That was a big play for them,” Brandon Hellenbrand said. “Ross hung it a little bit, and Will’s a heck of a hitter. He was able to take that pitch out and make a difference. He hit it hard, and hit most of his balls hard. That got them a little bit of momentum.”

Doherty, who began playing for the Businessmen in 2012 when he was 16 years old, said he homered at Middleton last year, but this one was special.

“To start the game off like that, that was fun,” said Doherty, who hit a rocket to right field in the third inning that Andrew Zimmerman ran down and also had another extra base taken away when left fielder Josh Hinson made a diving catch in the sixth inning. “It wasn’t a bad pitch. I just hit it.”

Allen needed only five pitches to escape the first inning after second baseman Jake Manser snared a line drive headed for center field and doubled Brandon Scheidler — who had singled and advanced on a sacrifice — off second base for an inning-ending double play.

Allen said that proved to be just what the doctor ordered for the Businessmen.

“During the season, we lost four straight, and I don’t think anybody expected us to get to this point at all,” Allen said in between exchanging hugs with most of Cross Plains.

“But after we got that big win against Mazo in the playoffs and shut them out for 10 innings, people started gaining confidence and believing.”

Cross Plains made it 2-0 in the third inning when Drew Meinholz lined a lead-off single to left field, advanced to second on a sacrifice, moved to third on a fly ball to right field and scored on a wild pitch.

Middleton trimmed its deficit in half in the sixth inning after Scheidler reached on an infield single, advanced to third base on an infield out and a fly ball, and scored when third baseman Shane Murphy dropped Kevin Dubler’s infield popup with two outs.

Meanwhile, Cross Plains was held scoreless the rest of the way. Ross Hellenbrand tossed 102 pitches through seven innings before Drew Farrell came on in relief and retired six of the seven batters he faced.

Middleton, though, had one last gasp to extend its season when it loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the ninth.

But Allen, who has recorded all three victories for Cross Plains in the playoffs, simply took a deep breath and went back to work.

“It was just one pitch, one out at a time,” said Allen, who scattered eight hits with three walks (one intentional) and two strikeouts. “I had to stay in it. I couldn’t let the emotions get involved there. I had to keep on making pitches.”
Josh Hinson muscled a fastball into left field to lead off the ninth for Middleton and moved to third when Andrew Zimmerman blasted a double on an 0-2 pitch to the left-center field gap. Ross Hellenbrand then was intentionally walked to load the bases and set up a force play.

Allen struck out Drew Farrell — just his second punch out of the game — for the first out and induced Ivan Monreal to hit a ground ball to Murphy at third base, who snared the grounder and spun around and fired a strike to Doherty to cut down Hinson at home plate.

“Spin and throw, I was just hoping to get to the ball first,” Murphy said. “Once I spun, I knew I had time to slow down and not have to rush my throw. It was a perfect hop, and I was thinking, ‘don’t slip, don’t slip,’ after I had slipped on a throw earlier in the game.”

On the next pitch, Carson Schulz hit bouncer to Murphy who fired the ball across the infield to first baseman Ryan Pulvermacher for the final out and unleash a celebration in front of the Cross Plains dugout.

“Shane Murphy dropped that popup and could have lost the game, but he made two great plays at the end of the game,” Randy Meinholz said. “He bounced back. You’ve got to have a short memory.”

That could have applied to Cross Plains as a team as well, after the Businessmen were swept by Middleton — 7-6 on June 30 at Middleton and 14-5 on July 15 at home — during the regular season.

But the 29ers have a not-so-secret weapon that would not be denied.

“Kenny (Allen) is a competitor, and it showed today,” Brandon Hellenbrand said. “He did everything he could today to will his team to win.

Randy Meinholz agreed.

“You could tell before the game he was ready to go,” Meinholz said of Allen, who has pitched 24 of 28 innings for the Businessmen in the playoffs. “He was very focused. He wasn’t coming out of this game. He told me before the game, ‘all we need is one run.’ Well, we needed two, but we’ll take it.”

 

2018 HTL round-robin schedule:

All games at 1 p.m.

Aug. 26

Cottage Grove at Evansville

Cross Plains at Verona

Sept. 2

Evansville at Cross Plains

Verona at Cottage Grove

Sept. 9

Cottage Grove at Cross Plains

Verona at Evansville

 

CROSS PLAINS 2, MIDDLETON  1

Cross Plains......101 000 000 – 2 6 1

Middleton…….000 001 000 – 1 8 0

Pitchers (ip-h-er-bb-so) -- CP: Kenny Allen (W, 9-8-0-3-2); M: Ross Hellenbrand (L, 7-5-2-1-4), Drew Farrell (2-1-0-0-0).

Leading hitters – CP: Kenny Allen  (2x3). HR – Will Doherty. M: Brandon Scheidler (3x4), Josh Hinson (2x4). 2B – Andrew Zimmerman.

 

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