I-S falls to Laconia in nine innings
By Greg Seubert
It didn’t end with a state title or even a trip to the WIAA Division 3 state spring championship game, but the Iola-Scandinavia baseball team’s 2017 season will go down as the best in the program’s history.
The Thunderbirds’ first trip to state ended June 14 with a 5-4 nine-inning loss to Laconia in a D3 semifinal at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute.
“It’s going to hurt today and probably hurt tomorrow, but once people step away and think about what happened this year, I think everybody will be proud of themselves and proud of each other,” coach Pete Timdal said after the T-Birds’ season ended with a 17-7 record.
Laconia, which ended up losing the D3 state championship game 10-0 to Aquinas June 15, opened the scoring with a run in the top of the second inning.
Hunter Engelhardt drew a leadoff walk and Brady Madigan and Drew Gunnink singled to load the bases. Engelhardt scored on Andy Abler’s single. Abler’s single loaded the bases with one out, but Seth Korb got out of the inning by striking out Erick Schmuhl and getting Cormac Madigan to pop up to first baseman Nick Hansen.
The Spartans left the bases loaded in the third and the T-Birds came up with two runs in the bottom half of the inning on three hits and an error.
Connor Kurki and Justin Sivertson singled and moved up on Alex Sharp’s sacrifice bunt. Carter Kurki drove in the T-Birds’ first run on a fielder’s choice groundout. Sivertson moved to third after Laconia intentionally walked Jayden Sivertson and Ethan Olson reached on Abler’s error at third base. Justin Sivertson scored on Korb’s single, but Justin Sivertson was cut down at home trying to score a second run on the play.
The Spartans tied the game in the fourth after Abler drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on Schmuhl’s sacrifice bunt, ended up at third on Connor Kurki’s wild pitch and scored on Kurki’s balk.
Kurki had relieved Korb, who started on the mound and threw 76 pitches in three innings.
“My daughter’s 12 years old and it happened in her game Sunday and it happens today,” Timdal said. “Is it nerves? Is is just something that happens? I don’t know how to explain that.”
Bryce Huettner wound up on second base in the fourth on Abler’s second error, but was stranded at third.
Neither team scored again until the sixth. Abler led off with a single for Laconia, moved to second on Schmuhl’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Cormac Madigan’s double.
The T-Birds tied the game in the bottom of the seventh. Justin Sivertson reached second base on the Spartans’ third error of the game and Carter Kurki’s two-out single scored courtesy runner Caden Prahl.
Laconia regained the lead in the top of the eighth. Schmuhl and Cormac Madigan walked and Schmuhl scored on Seth Gosse’s single. Kurki got out of the inning by getting Engelhardt to fly out to right field.
The T-Birds tied the game in their half of the eighth without a hit. Olson and Korb walked and moved up on Hansen’s sacrifice bunt off of reliever Bryce Engelhardt.
Olson scored as Huettner hit into a fielder’s choice. Connor Kurki walked with two outs, but the T-Birds stranded runners at second and third after Justin Sivertson infield popup.
A hit and an error gave the Spartans a 5-4 lead in the ninth off of new pitcher Carter Kurki.
Trevin Henker drew a one-out walk and scored on Bryce Engelhardt’s sacrifice bunt after Kurki fielded the ball and his throw to Hansen at first base was off the mark.
The T-Birds loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Carter Kurki walked, Jayden Sivertson singled and Korb walked, but Hansen popped up to Henker at second base to end the game.
“We were a hit away in the eighth or seventh and in the ninth,” Timdal said. “The guys never quit. They fell behind and kept battling with two runs in extra innings. Some of the things I could have done different, I’ll keep reliving those things over and over again.”
Korb and the Kurkis ended up walking 10 batters.
“We struggled throwing strikes early and struggled throwing strikes later,” Timdal said. “It came back to haunt us down the stretch.”
The game was originally started to get underway at about 3:30 p.m., but was put on hold for 2 1/2 hours after severe thunderstorms that rolled through Waupaca County eventually made it to the Appleton area.
T-Bird fans that attended the game included Marie Skowen, the grandmother of a number of players on the team.
“We’ve got a grandma of some of these kids who’s battling cancer,” Timdal said. “I think a lot of the resolve these kids have is from her. They want to keep fighting for her and in fact, today’s her birthday.”
A trip to state helps set the table for the team’s future, according to Timdal.
The T-Birds’ varsity roster this season included four freshman and six sophomores. Five of those players – Carter Kurki, Connor Kurki, Justin Sivertson, Huettner and Sharp – were in the starting lineup against Laconia. The team also had three seniors in Korb, Hansen and Jayden Sivertson. Sivertson and Korb led the T-Birds at the plate with two of the team’s eight hits.
“We have a lot of good baseball players,” Timdal said. “We just can’t rest on what happened this year. These guys have to put in the work in the offseason and focus on what needs to be done. It starts in the weight room, even for baseball.”