O'Connor, MHS down No. 1 East

Error message

  • Notice: Undefined index: taxonomy_term in similarterms_taxonomy_node_get_terms() (line 518 of /home/middleton/www/www/sites/all/modules/similarterms/similarterms.module).
  • Notice: Undefined offset: 0 in similarterms_list() (line 221 of /home/middleton/www/www/sites/all/modules/similarterms/similarterms.module).
  • Notice: Undefined offset: 1 in similarterms_list() (line 222 of /home/middleton/www/www/sites/all/modules/similarterms/similarterms.module).
MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Bennett O’Connor threw a gem to lead Middleton past top-ranked Sun Prairie East on May 14./Photo submitted

SUN PRAIRIE — Bennett O’Connor was a little worried.

As Middleton’s standout junior pitcher readied for the biggest start of his young life — a battle with No. 1 and unbeaten Sun Prairie East on May 14 — O’Connor couldn't find a groove.

“During my warmups, I did not feel the greatest,” O’Connor said. “I thought it was going to be not-so-good of a game.”

Apparently, warm-ups can be deceiving.

O’Connor hurled a gem, holding the visiting Cardinals to just one run in 6 2/3 innings, and Middleton notched its biggest win of the year with a 2-1 victory over East.

O’Connor struck out six, didn't walk anyone, allowed six hits and threw strikes on 62.5% of his pitches. Kevin Sheehan came on to record the final out as Middleton (14-9 overall, 10-6 in the Big Eight) handed East (21-1, 15-1) its first loss of the year.

“Incredible. Incredible,” Middleton manager Brent Jorgensen said of O’Connor. “Everything was locked in, hitting his spots. In-out, up-down.

“He competed hard. Left a couple of guys in scoring position. Didn’t give in when things started going Sun Prairie’s way. He just continued to work and battle, which is really impressive.”

East rebounded two days later with a 13-6 win in Sun Prairie during the team’s annual ‘Strikeout Cancer’ game. East overcame an early  6-1 hole with 12 unanswered runs to prevail.

The story of the week, though, was O’Connor — and a young Middleton team that is peaking as the postseason nears.

“We always knew we had the bats and the pitching,” said senior outfielder Porter Blaha. “We just needed to put a good seven innings together.

“This whole group played together throughout the summer. We had a good summer and we knew what we had coming in. We just needed to put it together.”

O’Connor certainly put things together against an East lineup that had scored in double digits 11 times this year and is averaging 8.3 runs per game.

O’Connor lived primarily with a fastball that had pinpoint accuracy and a nasty curveball that kept East off balance. And when O’Connor struck out East standout Sam Ostrenga — a North Dakota football recruit — to start the game, his confidence immediately soared.

“That kind of set the tone,” O’Connor said.

It sure did.

O’Connor retired the first 11 batters he faced before allowing a two-out double in the fourth. But O’Connor came back and recorded a strikeout to get out of that mini-jam.

O’Connor gave up a leadoff double in the fifth, but worked out of that conundrum thanks to a pair of strikeouts. And in the sixth, East put two on with two outs before O’Connor recorded a fly ball out to escape that jam.

“There were a handful of things that could have tipped the game in any inning,” Jorgensen said. “And (O’Connor) just continued to battle and compete and it was pretty impressive.”

In the seventh, with Middleton nursing a 2-0 lead, Sun Prairie strung together three hits — including two with two outs — and closed within 2-1. Jorgensen called on Sheehan, who then got the dangerous Ostrenga to bounce back to the mound giving Middleton its biggest win of the season.

“That was probably the highlight of my high school career so far,” O’Connor said of beating East. “It was one of the most fun games I’ve ever pitched in.”

Offensively, Middleton did just enough to make sure O’Connor’s brilliant performance wasn’t wasted.

In the first inning, Tyler Vogt had a one-out double, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a perfect bunt by Ray Feinberg to give Middleton a 1-0 lead.

Middleton added a run in the third when Vogt — who went 3-for-3 — doubled again and advanced to third on the throw. Charlie Tompach followed with an RBI single and Middleton pushed its lead to 2-0.

Middleton put four runners on over the next three innings, but couldn’t add to its lead. As it turned out, though, Middleton had already given O’Connor just enough support.

“We can build on that and we’re starting to get that trust, too,” Jorgensen said. “We have another week to get things right. We have some work to do, no doubt. But I think we have a team that can make a run.

“We’ve got some pretty deep pitching and we’ve got some guys that can really put pressure on defenses. So, I think we’re going to be all right.”

Middleton looked like it might pull off a sweep of East when it jumped to a 6-1 lead after 1 ½ innings two nights later. Instead, East scored three runs in both the second and third innings and four more in the fourth and grabbed an 11-6 lead.

Middleton managed just two hits in the final four innings and East earned a split of the regular season series.

“In the third through the sixth innings, our body language was just way different,” Jorgensen said. “We weren’t competing at the same level. We need to get to that level where we trust in what we’re doing, because we’re pretty good. But we need to play with confidence or else it can make for a long afternoon for us.”

Middleton’s afternoon sure started well.

In the first inning, Blaha had a leadoff single to left, Vogt was hit by a pitch and Tompach had a gorgeous bunt single to load the bases with nobody out. Fienberg followed with an RBI groundout, Easton Harris had a perfectly placed bunt to score Vogt, and Chase Rogers had a run-scoring single to center that scored Tompach to give Middleton a 3-0 lead.

After East scored a run in the bottom of the first, Middleton loaded the bases again to begin the second inning.

Second baseman Koeplin Look opened the inning with an infield single, shortstop Jackson Guerrero singled to left and Blaha laid down a terrific bunt and beat it out. After Look scored on a wild pitch, Tompach drove home Guerrero with a base hit, then Fienberg had a squeeze bunt that plated Blaha and gave Middleton a 6-1 lead.

“Big game,” Blaha said. “We came out hot and I like the way we started. But then our energy fell flat and we got a little nervous.”

East also proved why it’s the No. 1 team in the state, knocking Sheehan from the game after just two innings and pounding out 11 hits against four Middleton pitchers. Ostrenga also showed why he’s one of the state’s elite players going 4-for-5 with six RBIs.

Overall, though, Middleton’s two-day performance against East has it confident that a postseason run is quite possible.

“I think beating East gave us the confidence that we can go as far as we want to,” O’Connor said. “I knew we were going to be good. I’ve been a little surprised, but I also knew we could hang with some of the big teams and we’ve proved it.”

Blaha agreed.

“We know we can hit anybody,” Blaha said. “And we’ve got a couple pitchers who can shut anybody down, so confidence is high.”

For a Middleton team that returned just one starter from last year’s state qualifying team, the performance of this group — highlighted by a win over No. 1 East — has been thrilling.

“I think the big thing is this is a really tight group and that’s pretty cool,” Jorgensen said. “And it’s pretty rare considering there were players on freshman baseball last year, JV baseball and varsity baseball. So for them to all come together … is pretty cool. And that’s a testament to them.”


Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (2 votes)