'Comeback Kids' out of heroics

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Aidan Williams was all smiles after his game-winning double against Madison Memorial Tuesday./Photo courtesy of Lori Hellenbrand

Comebacks had become the norm.

Middleton’s baseball team rallied twice in the final days of the regular season and won games where it was down to its last strike.

The Cardinals surged past DeForest in the last two innings of their WIAA Division 1 regional final on June 17. And Middleton stunned Madison Memorial with a five-run seventh inning on their way to an 8-6 win in the sectional semifinals Tuesday.

But the ‘Comeback Kids’ came up one rally short in their bid to reach the state tournament.

A few hours after ousting Madison Memorial, Middleton fell to Onalaska, 2-1, in the sectional finals Tuesday in Baraboo. The Cardinals rallied for one run in the seventh, but left runners stranded on third and second to end the game.

Middleton, which was gunning for its first trip to state since 2016, won 14 of its final 18 games and finished the year 19-10. Onalaska improved to 16-9 and reached the state tournament for the first time since 1994.

“Over the last month-and-a-half, we were playing much better baseball and just kind of found ways to win,” Middleton manager Brent Jorgensen said. “We were never really out of it, even in some games we were down to our last strike. We were always confident we could get the job done.

“The kids played their hearts out and it was a great day of baseball. The only thing that would have made it better was a win at the end.”

Middleton struggled to get much going against Onalaska’s Bryce Hoeft in the sectional finals. Hoeft went the distance, gave up just three hits, no earned runs, struck out three and walked two.

“He had a little bit lower arm slot and threw three pitches for strikes,” Jorgensen said of Hoeft. “He worked pretty quick, which was different than some of the guys we’ve seen lately. We still had some really good at-bats, but credit to him for keeping us off balance.”

The game was scoreless until the bottom of the sixth when the Hilltoppers struck for a pair of unearned runs against Middleton reliever Tyler Pincombe and grabbed a 2-0 lead.

The Cardinals rallied back in the top of the seventh, though.

Aidan Williams reached on an error and Jacob Andler’s base hit put runners at first and second. Nolan Dunn’s sacrifice moved both runners up a base, then Nolan Smith grounded into a fielder’s choice that scored Matthew Zimmerman — who was pinch running for Williams.

With runners on first and second, David Meier singled to left and each runner advanced a base. Pinch hitter Garrett Pertzborn grounded out to third, ending the game and Middleton’s season.

“It’s still pretty raw,” Jorgensen said. “We were right there. Tying run on third, winning run on second, no panic. The way we were playing, you don’t really expect it to end.”

Middleton had to like its chances of reaching state after its dramatic come-from-behind win over Madison Memorial in the semifinals.

The Spartans defeated the Cardinals in both of their regular season meetings and seemed ready to do it again when they carried a 6-3 lead to the top of the seventh. Amazingly, though, Middleton put up five runs and ended the top-seeded Spartans’ year.

Smith reached on an error to open the inning, then Stephen Paulsen walked. Memorial pulled pitcher Alex Jungers — who was sharp all day — but reliever Jameson Muller promptly walked Preston Roell on four pitches to load the bases with nobody out.

“Any time you get the starter out of the game it changes the dynamic of the game,” Jorgensen said. “With high school baseball, you never know for sure what you’re going to get.”

Memorial switched pitchers again and inserted Tyler Schmitt. The move looked like it would pay dividends when Hayden Hellenbrand grounded into a fielder’s choice that scored Smith and Erik Pongratz struck out swinging.

Trailing 6-4 and down to their final out, Middleton’s Easton Zempel quickly fell into an 0-2 hole against Schmitt. But Zempel worked his way back and drew a walk to load the bases.

Williams then found himself in an 0-2 hole, as well, as the Cardinals were down to their final strike. Williams worked the count back to 2-2, then doubled to center to score Paulsen, Hellenbrand and Zempel and give the Cardinals a 7-6 lead.

“It was one of those things where we were still in it,” Jorgensen said. “One strike left and he was locked in and his confidence was there.

“We all trust him and he came through. It’s not anything new. He’s one of the guys we really wanted up in that situation. We have a ton of confidence in him. It was an incredible thing.”

Andler followed with a single that scored pinch runner Zimmerman with an insurance run. Williams then kept the Spartans in check in the bottom of the seventh and earned the win.

“With this group, you’re just never really out of it,” Jorgensen said.

Middleton grabbed a 2-1 lead in the top of the third when Williams had an RBI single that scored Pongratz and Bryce Hensen scored on an attempted double steal that saw Pertzborn eventually get thrown out at second.

Memorial tied things, 2-2, in the bottom of the third. Then in the top of the fourth, Smith’s RBI single to center plated Dunn and gave the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.

Jorgensen pulled Zempel after four innings with the Cardinals ahead, 3-2. And that move looked like it could backfire after Williams allowed a pair of runs in both the fifth and sixth.

But the Cardinals’ seventh inning rally made that a moot point and kept Middleton’s season alive a few hours longer.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they couldn't replicate their late-game magic against Onalaska.

“We had a pretty rocky start to the season,” Jorgensen said. “Quite frankly we weren’t playing that well, but the kids continued to stick together, worked hard, accepted responsibility, stayed together and had a belief we can get it done.

“Their grit and toughness and resiliency … I can’t quantify how much I appreciate what they gave us. It was rewarding and exhilarating.”



Baraboo sectional



Middleton …………… 000 000 1 — 1 3 2

Onalaska ……………. 000 002 x — 2 7 1

Pitchers (ip-h-r-er-so-bb) — M: Williams (2.2-2-0-0-2-0), Pincombe (L; 3.1-5-2-2-2-1); On: Hoeft (W; 7-3-1-0-3-2.

Leading hitters — M: Andler 2x3; On: Kokaisel 2x3, Brandt (2B). At Mary Rountree Evans Field, Baraboo.




Middleton ………… 002 100 5 — 8 6 1

Mad. Memorial ………… 101 022 0 — 6 9 1

Pitchers (ip-h-r-er-so-bb) — Mid: Zempel (4-5-2-2-4-1), Williams (W; 3-4-4-4-2-1); MM: Jungers (L; 6-4-5-3-3-4), Muller (0-0-1-1-0-1), Schmitt (1-2-2-2-1-2).

Leading hitters — Mid: Williams 2x3 (2B), Dunn (2B), Andler 2x4; MM: Bott 1x4 (2B), Schmitt 2x4, Jessup 2x3.



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