Waupaca faces defending state champion
By Greg Seubert
The postseason has started for several area American Legion baseball teams.
Waupaca is hosting a four-team Class AA regional that began July 22 at Lakemen Field in Waupaca, while Marion/Tigerton and Clintonville are teaming up to host an eight-team Class A regional that also began July 22.
“This time of year, guys are starting to get tired,” Waupaca coach Kyle Douglas said. “Pitchers’ arms and catchers’ legs are getting a little heavy. With that said, playoff baseball gets the adrenaline pumping and arms and legs start to feel fresh again. We are excited to host the regional here in Waupaca and are eager to get started.
“We have a tough task ahead of us Wednesday, as we face the No. 1 team in the state in our division,” he said.
“Menasha is the defending state champion from a year ago and two years ago, they were the runner-up. We are 0-2 against them this year and have only two hits and zero runs in 14 innings of play. If we want to have a chance, we need to hit. Offensively, Menasha is going to get some runs on the board, regardless of who we throw and how well we play defensively. We have to hit and limit our mistakes. If we can do those two things, anything can happen.”
Waupaca picked up a 7-5 win over Appleton Post 38 July 18.
Brandon Watts drove in three runs with a double during a five-run second inning.
“Brandon got a pitch and let it rip,” Douglas said. “The ball was carrying quite a bit and he got one up in the air and hit a one-hop double off the fence in left center. It was a great at bat by Brandon and really gave us momentum.”
Hayden Neidert pitched the first four innings for Waupaca and Walker Smith pitched a scoreless seventh.
“We only had nine guys on Saturday and all nine guys played exceptionally well,” Douglas said. “It’s great to see guys 1-9 contribute and put together quality at-bats. We have been aggressive on the base paths all summer and it’s helping us win games. Against teams like Appleton, you have to keep constant pressure on them and you do that by getting guys on base, getting them into scoring position and coming up with big hits to drive in runs. We were able to do that Saturday and it was a good win for us.
Waupaca fell to Shawano 10-9 July 16.
Chase Henning gave Shawano an early lead with a three-run homer in the top of the first inning. Waupaca answered with a run in the second, but Shawano came up with six more runs and led 9-1 by the third.
“It was a wet day and the ball was hard to handle,” Douglas said. “We didn’t make some plays that we would have made routinely in dry conditions. Ryan (Dayton) struggled a little bit on the mound. He fell behind on a lot of hitters, putting Shawano in favorable counts as hitters.
“We could have called it quits and laid down, but we didn’t,” he said. “My guys continued to battle and fight back and we kept getting guys on base and capitalizing on Shawano’s mistakes. Down 10-9 in the top of the seventh inning, we got the first two guys on base. Brandon Watts struggled to get a bunt down to advance the runners, but with two strikes, we got the runners over into scoring position on a wild pitch. Shawano would go on to strike out the next three batters to win the game.
“Of all the games we’ve played this year, this one made me the most proud,” he said. “To be down big early and to fight back into the game, I was very happy with the way we played. We showed a lot of heart and as a coach, regardless of the score, you want to see guys keep at it and stay in the game. We were shorthanded with only nine guys and all nine guys there responded well and competed.”
Waupaca also posted a 3-1 record and won a recent tournament in Plover.
The team split a doubleheader with Stevens Point and also picked up wins over Plover and Eau Claire.
Watts took the loss on the mound in a 7-2 loss to Stevens Point.
“It was our first game in quite a long time,” Douglas said. “We came out flat and lethargic. It was an ugly game, but we turned the corner the next game.”
Ryan Dayton then picked up the win in a 7-2 victory.
“Ryan throws strikes all day long and challenges hitters,” Douglas said. “He doesn’t strike many guys out, but pitches to contact and allows his teammates to make plays behind him.”
Jason Ellie went the distance in a 9-0 win over Plover and Waupaca also handed Eau Claire a 4-3 loss.
Neidert got the win over Eau Claire in relief.
“Hayden came in to relieve in the third and gave up one run the rest of the way,” Douglas said. “He pitched his butt off and threw strikes. He gave his teammates the opportunity to make plays behind him and they did.”
Waupaca also picked up league wins July 15 over Shawano and New London.
Jake Popham had four hits in a 6-5 eight-inning win over Shawano, while Walker Smith pitched a scoreless eighth inning to get the win on the mound.
Smith led off Waupaca’s half of the eighth inning with a walk and moved up on a wild pitch. Joe Ogden bunted down the third-base line and Smith scored the game-winning run after the throw to first was overthrown.
“It was nice to see guys execute and play small down when the game was on the line,” Douglas said. “Not many teams ask their cleanup hitters to bunt, but this group is pretty selfless and is willing to drop down bunts to get guys over. It’s working.”
Waupaca also handed New London a 7-3 loss, as Owen McCann held the Clippers to one run over five innings.
“Owen made one real mistake all game and the guy hit one of the longest home runs I’ve ever seen at Lakemen Field,” Douglas said. “He did a great job of pounding the strike zone and changing speeds and kept guys off-balance. It was great to see him have that kind of performance with very little work on the mound this summer.”
Smith and Popham each had two hits as Waupaca improved to 10-5 on the season.
“We are starting to play good ball at the right time,” Douglas said. “With the regional tournament starting next Wednesday, we are starting to hit our stride.”
Waupaca wrapped up the regular season July 20 by splitting a doubleheader with Seymour. Waupaca won the opener 4-1, while Seymour came back to win the second, 6-3.
Watts picked up the win on the mound and also hit a home run over the center field fence.
“He did it on the mound and at the plate,” Douglas said. “He threw a lot of strikes and rarely got behind in the count. If Brandon gets ahead on hitters, he’s really tough. He has a good fastball that he can get by guys and a curveball that can really make hitters look bad. Brandon was definitely the star of game 1 and I’m hoping his performance will carry over into the regional tournament.”
Seymour scored twice in the bottom of the first inning and went on to the win.
Smith took the loss and Popham relieved him on the mound.
“Jake Popham did a nice job,” Douglas said. “Ideally, we wouldn’t have played on Monday, not before we start the regional. I was glad that Jake was able to go as long as he did. He gave our pitchers a break and extra time to get their arms rested and ready for the regional.”
Here’s a rundown of each tournament:
Besides Waupaca, the tournament also includes Menasha, Hortonville and New London. Waupaca, Menasha and New London compete in the Fox River Valley American Legion Baseball League’s West Division, while Hortonville is in the South Division.
The schedule is:
• Wednesday, July 22: Hortonville vs. New London, 5 p.m.; Waupaca vs. Menasha, 8 p.m.
• Thursday, July 23: Game 1 loser vs. game 2 loser, 5 p.m.; game 1 winner vs. game 2 winner, 8 p.m.
• Friday, July 24: Game 3 winner vs. game 4 loser, 4 p.m.
• Saturday, July 25: Game 4 winner vs. game 5 winner, 3 p.m.; same two teams, 6 p.m. (if necessary)
Besides Marion/Tigerton and Clintonville, the tournament also includes Iola, Manawa, Keshena, Oconto Falls, Bonduel and Omro. Games will be played in Marion and at W.A. Olen Park in Clintonville.
The schedule is:
• Wednesday, July 22: Marion/Tigerton vs. Keshena in Marion, Manawa vs. Oconto Falls in Marion, Bonduel vs. Omro in Clintonville, Iola vs. Clintonville in Clintonville.
• Thursday, July 23: Game 1 loser vs. Game 3 loser in Marion, game 1 winner vs. game 3 winner in Marion, game 2 loser vs. game 4 loser in Clintonville, game 2 winner vs. game 4 winner in Clintonville.
• Friday, July 24: Game 6 winner vs. game 7 loser in Clintonville, game 5 winner vs. game 8 loser in Clintonville, game 7 winner vs. game 8 winner in Clintonville.
• Saturday, July 25: Game 9 winner vs. game 11 loser in Clintonville, game 10 winner vs. game 11 winner in Clintonville.
• Sunday, July 26: Game 12 winner vs. game 13 winner in Clintonville; same two teams (if necessary). Game times for the tournament were not available.
Class AA regional championships advance to state, to be held July 29-Aug. 2 in Kaukauna. Class A regional champions will advance to state, to be held July 29-Aug. 2 in West Salem.