After having the first seven games of the season cancelled or rescheduled, it was finally time for the Waupaca baseball team to get down to business.
Once the Comets were finally able to take the field in mid-April, the team eventually won its first Eastern Valley Conference championship since 2009 and its fourth in 11 years.
“Some people would say it’s a great season,” coach John Koronkiewicz said after the Comets wrapped up its regular season May 23 with a 5-4 win over New London.
“At this point, we’re 16-5, we’re conference champs and we played pretty good baseball from beginning to end,” he said. “Even the games we lost, we were in those games and it was a pitch here or a play there. On the other hand, we won some games the same way.”
The Comets earned a No. 2 seed in Division 2 and were scheduled to open state tournament play May 28 at home against No. 3 Omro after getting a bye in the first round. The winner advanced to a regional final, probably against top-seeded Winnebago Lutheran. That game was scheduled for May 29.
Waupaca trailed New London 4-3, but Beau Ash and Jake Reedy belted back-to-back solo home runs to give Waupaca the lead for good.
“I give a lot of credit to the guys we have out here,” Koronkiewicz said. “They’ve been pretty serious from day 1. I thought we had some potential coming into the season to be pretty good. We have pretty good position players and our lineup is pretty solid from top to bottom. Even our reserves are pretty good players and can make contributions along the way.
“I thought it came down to how well we would pitch,” he added. “Our pitching has been pretty solid all year. Joe Nelson’s had an outstanding season and Josh Houtman has been consistent on the mound. From a pitching standpoint, when you get backed up like we were and play as many different games as we had to in a short time, your pitching has to come through for you. Defensively, we’ve had a pretty solid season. Jake Reedy’s had an outstanding year behind the plate. We put a lot of responsibility on him as our catcher, so he’s done a great job handling our pitchers.”
Waupaca, Clintonville and Ripon were in the mix for the championship in the final week of the regular season. The Comets clinched the title with a win over Ripon May 20 in the first game of a doubleheader.
“I thought Clintonville would be a very good baseball team and they proved to be just that,” Koronkiewicz said. “I thought FVL (Fox Valley Lutheran) was a good baseball team, Ripon has a strong tradition and (Appleton) Xavier has been pretty good. If you take a look at our league, there were a lot of pretty good teams that were able to knock each other off. To go through the season with three (conference) losses, it shows how tough the league was from top to bottom. I think it should be an advantage in the tournament to be in highly contested games for most of the season and we were. Once you get into the tournament, you’re going to have close games. You have to be able to take the good and bad and hopefully get a break. I think we were good enough to get that No. 1 seed, but it didn’t turn out that way. You have to play everybody and you have to keep winning. Is there that much difference between a 1 and a 2? I hope not.”
Waupaca was originally scheduled to play New London April 6. The rescheduled game was added to the schedule late in the season.
“It was nice to have this game today,” Koronkiewicz said. “Otherwise, we go from Monday to the following Tuesday. I think we needed a game to keep us sharp. We have a big weekend coming up, graduation and a lot of distractions. I told our guys that we really have to focus on staying mentally in the contest. I hope they’re able to avoid the distractions, keep focused and realize that we only have one shot at this. We’d like to think that we’re capable of playing with anybody. The goal is to win a regional, get to sectionals and go from there.”
The Comets have competed in Division 1 and Division 2 in the state tournament in recent years.
“D2 is where we’d like to be all the time,” Koronkiewicz said. “The last time we were in D2 was 2009 and we made a run to the sectional final here against West De Pere. We’d love to be in that same position and enjoy a playoff run.
“It’s been a very rewarding and gratifying season,” he said. “The guys get along and root for each other. If you can do that and put together some kind of team environment, then you have a chance for success.”