Waupaca to play for state baseball title
By Greg Seubert
Senior leadership has been the Waupaca baseball team’s bread and butter all season long.
Nate Meihak, Walker Smith and Jason Ellie showed why June 15 in the Comets’ 6-3 WIAA Division 2 state semifinal win over West Salem.
Meihak gave the Comets the lead for good with a three-run double in the third inning and Smith added a two-run single in the fifth. Both hits came with two outs.
Meanwhile, Ellie went the distance on the mound and gave up only one earned run while striking out 11 batters.
Waupaca will face defending Division 2 champion Milwaukee Lutheran at 3 p.m. Thursday, June 16, at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute for a state title.
The Red Knights handed Lodi a 4-1 loss in the other Division 2 semifinal and also defeated Waupaca 3-2 in a Division 2 sectional final last year.
“Seniors just have a way of competing,” coach John Koronkiewicz said. “A clutch hit by Nate Meihak to drive in three. A clutch hit by Walker Smith to drive in two. I thought Jason pitched a heck of a ballgame. He was in command for the most part. I think we let him down a couple of occasions defensively, but to his credit, he just kept plugging away. He gave us the kind of performance we needed him to give us to put in a position to play for a state title.”
The Comets opened the scoring in the bottom of the second inning, as Brenden Canterbury led off with a single and stole second base. Shane Olsen drew a walk, Meihak was hit by a pitch and Jake Popham drew a bases-loaded walk.
A pair of defensive errors helped West Salem take the lead in the third. Jake Whitbeck and Braxton Ghelfi singled and both eventually scored on the errors.
The Panthers’ lead didn’t last long, however, as Ellie drew a leadoff walk, Hayden Neidert was hit by a pitch and Canterbury came up with his second single of the game to load the bases. Nick Grams grounded into a double play, but Olsen walked to load the bases again to set the table for Meihak, who doubled to right-center field to give Waupaca a 4-2 advantage.
Waupaca added to its lead in the fifth. Grams singled, Olsen walked for the third time and later scored with courtesy runner Michael Johnson on Smith’s single.
Ellie held the Panthers scoreless until the top of the seventh.
Whitbeck, Ghelfi and Trevor Kastenschmidt singled, with Whitbeck scoring on Kastenschmidt’s hit. Ellie then struck out Mitch Hansen to end the game with the bases loaded.
West Salem outhit the Comets 9-7 and both teams committed a pair of errors.
“Showing up and playing at 3 o’clock, that’s the game plan,” Koronkiewicz said. “Milwaukee Lutheran obviously is a great baseball team. We had a great game a year ago. Hopefully, it’s as good a game with just a slightly different outcome.”
The Red Knights will take a 24-7 record into the championship game, while the Comets are 24-4. Other state final matchups are Ithaca (22-3) vs. Rib Lake (20-4) in Division 4, Prairie du Chien (25-1) vs. St. Mary Catholic (25-0) in Division 3 and Burlington (24-5) vs. Arrowhead (29-2) in Division 1.
“As a team, I think we have a great deal of baseball maturity,” Koronkiewicz said. “We don’t seem to get flustered, we just kind of play and do our thing.
“Sometimes, it may not be the prettiest thing that you’ve ever seen, but to the credit of the guys on our team, they just keep playing,” he added. “As long as you keep playing, you have a chance to do great things.”