Fast start lifts Point over Plover
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The Stevens Point Sixers American Legion Baseball team got out to an early lead and held off a late rally to beat the rival Plover Black Sox at Bukolt Park Tuesday, July 10.
The Sixers jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning and clung to a 6-4 advantage in the top of the seventh inning, as Plover had the tying run on first base when Point closed out a 6-4 win.
“It’s always a good matchup between Plover and the Sixers, and it’s a lot of fun,” said Point manager Caleb Bembenek. “The four-spot in the first inning really helped get their starter Trigg out, and it was really important.
“They’re a phenomenal ball team, and our hitters have been struggling a lot lately, but today they brought their ‘A’ game,” he said.
“It was a tough first inning,” said Plover manager Wayne Sankey. “And then we just needed to somehow punch another one through, with those single tallies (later in the game).
“Give them credit for not allowing us to get more runs,” he said.
Plover beat Point 6-3 at home June 19 in the first meeting between the teams this season and entered Tuesday night at 7-4 in the Wisconsin Valley Legion League (WVLL) and in control of its own destiny with a game left against WVLL leader Marshfield (8-3) next week, while the Sixers sat in sixth place in the jumbled conference race at 4-6.
Point struck in the bottom of the first inning against Plover starter Dylan Trigg, as center fielder Brady Franz and second baseman Nate Helms had back-to-back singles to lead off the bottom half of the inning, and first baseman Isaac Perner followed with a two-run single to give the team a 2-0 lead.
After a one-out single from designated hitter Austin Stankowski put runners on the corners, right fielder Zach Zimmerman and catcher Jacob Danielsen each had a RBI single to increase the lead to 4-0, as the Sixers scored four runs on six singles in the inning.
“It’s always great to get four runs in the first inning, that gives your team a lot of confidence, that ‘we can hit this guy,’” said Bembenek. “And it gives your pitcher confidence, to get him a little run support, so he can go out there and just throw strikes and let his defense work.”
Plover rallied in the top of the third inning against Point starter JD Schultz, as second baseman Michael Glodosky was hit by a pitch with one out, shortstop Brett Ehr had a two-out RBI double to score Glodosky and make it 4-1, and first baseman Jack Kelly delivered a RBI single to score Ehr and bring the Black Sox within 4-2.
Point answered in the bottom of the third, as Zimmerman drew a leadoff walk and Danielsen reached on an error with one out, and shortstop Justin Morton followed with a two-run double down the left-field line to increase the Sixers’ lead to 6-2.
“That was a huge hit,” said Bembenek. “He hit the ball hard a couple of times, and he came through really clutch, hitting that one down the line and scoring two runs.
“That was really a breakaway moment in the game for us,” he said.
The Sixers carried a 6-2 lead into the top of the sixth inning, as Kelly reached on a dropped third strike to start the inning and came around to score on an error on a groundball from pinch hitter Austin Beyer to make it 6-3, before Point reliever Brennan Mueller got a groundout to leave runners stranded on the corners.
Plover rallied again in the top of the seventh inning, as Cam Stampfl drew a leadoff walk against Point reliever Brady Franz, and after a strikeout and a fly out to deep left field, Kelly singled with two outs to put runners on the corners, and left fielder Tristan Aldrich followed with a RBI single to right field to score Stampfl and make it 6-4.
With the tying run on first base, Plover right fielder Logan Schulfer hit a line drive to left field, but left fielder Reese Gaber hauled it in to seal Point’s 6-4 victory.
“They made plays,” said Sankey. “It’s just baseball, those balls are 10, 15 feet the other way, it could be a different game.
“But there’s a reason why guys play where they are, because that’s where the majority of the balls go,” he said. “We’ve just got to find a way though to not bury ourselves in such a hole to start the game.”
“It’s always really good ballgames between us,” said Bembenek. “All of the kids go to school together, so there’s that bickering back and forth, and the camaraderie and everything.
“And this is the first game I’ve seen all season where our team actually came together as a full team and was supportive of everybody,” he said. “So it’s great to see that.”
Mason King went 2-for-3 at the plate, and Kelly and Aldrich both went 2-for-4 to lead the Plover offense, which finished with seven hits. Trigg took the loss after he allowed five earned runs on nine hits, walked one and struck out none in two and 1/3 innings, while Stampfl came on and allowed one hit, struck out four and walked none over three and 2/3 shutout innings.
Perner was 2-for-4 with two RBI, Stankowski went 2-for-3, Helms was 2-for-4, and Morton went 1-for-3 with a double and two RBI, as the Sixers finished with 10 hits. Schultz earned the win on the mound after he allowed two earned runs on four hits, struck out three and walked none over four innings, while Mueller didn’t allow an earned run on one hit and struck out one in two innings, and Franz picked up the save after he allowed one earned run on two hits, walked one and struck out one in the seventh.
“All of our pitchers did phenomenal,” said Bembenek. “JD came out and did his job and threw four innings, and one of our other pitchers was cramping up so we had to have Brennan go, which was great.
“He said he was locked in, his curveball was working great, and the speed difference going from JD to a little bit slower was the game plan we wanted, and then bring Brady in at the end to bring up the speed a little bit,” he said. “We thought the matchup worked out well.”
With one week left in the regular season, Marshfield (8-3) leads the WVLL, followed by Wisconsin Rapids (8-4), Antigo (7-4), Wausau (8-5), Plover (7-5), Point (5-6), D.C. Everest (2-10) and Merrill (2-10).
Point is set to play a game at Marshfield at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 12, and then host Wisconsin Rapids in its conference finale at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 17, while Plover was scheduled to host Merrill at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 11, then play at Marshfield in its regular-season finale at 7 p.m. Monday, July 16.
“We can’t win the Valley, but the goal is to get some more guys some playing time, and give them some shots and opportunities to see what we can get together for our Regional team,” said Bembenek. “But it’s always great winning against Plover; it should be a good confidence booster.
“We probably will see them somewhere in Regionals, so hopefully we can use that against them, and hope for the best,” he said. “And hopefully we can end on a positive note here going into Regionals. “
“We’re probably out of the conference race now with five losses, although it’s only two back in the loss column,” said Sankey. “But we’ve got a long weekend here at our home tournament, and we’ve just got to be ready to go.
“We’ve got to come out every single night now and get better and be ready for the Regionals,” he said.