Baseball Cardinals stunned in sectional semis

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Luke Ballweg (left), manager Tom Schmitt (right) and Middleton's baseball team were upset in the sectional semifinals Tuesday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

This was not the ending anyone envisioned.

Middleton’s baseball team won 20 games this year. The Cardinals tied for first place in the Big Eight Conference, were the No. 1 seed in their sectional and fully expected to keep their dream season alive.

But it all came to a crashing halt Tuesday.

Middleton fell behind DeForest, 6-0, after two innings of their WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal. The Cardinals rallied back, but the early hole was too deep and the Norskies eventually notched a 7-5 win.

Middleton ended its season 20-8. DeForest, which tied for fourth place in the Northern Badger Conference, improved to 13-9.

Afterwards, this extremely close group of Cardinals — many who have been playing together for a decade — almost couldn’t grasp the fact that their year was over.

“The game ended and it’s almost like I didn’t understand what was happening,” Cardinals senior shortstop Alan Roden said. “I got my stuff and came over for our team talk like it was any other game. But it obviously wasn’t like any other game.”

No, it wasn’t.

Middleton’s senior dominant lineup had expectations of playing at next week’s state tournament. And after a terrific regular season, the Cardinals were clear favorites to reach the state tournament for the ninth time since 2002.

But DeForest put an end to those dreams.

“This group has played a lot of ball together,” Middleton manager Tom Schmitt said. “They’ve had a lot of success and thought they could do some big things in the playoffs. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”

One reason for that was Schmitt’s decision to start Matt Ballweg instead of Brady Schmitt against the Norskies.

Brady Schmitt was a first-team all-Big Eight Conference pitcher and the Cardinals’ clear-cut ace. Ballweg — Middleton’s No. 2 pitcher — had a solid year, too, and was named honorable mention all-conference.

Tom Schmitt, Middleton’s manager since 2003, said he’s always been prone to throwing his ace in the sectional semifinals and his No. 2 later in the day. But Tom Schmitt liked the match-up of Ballweg against the Norskies and rolled the dice.

“It was all about match-ups,” Tom Schmitt said. “When we played DeForest (on May 26), off speed breaking balls is what they struggled with more. So I figured Matt had a little bit better breaking ball, little bit better stuff on that side. We thought that was going to be the winning ticket, so we went with that.”

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, that move backfired.

Ballweg lasted just 1 2/3 innings and allowed five runs. And after two innings, Middleton was in a 6-0 hole.

“I’m not going to second guess it,” Tom Schmitt said. “Obviously, we didn’t pitch the way we wanted, but there were a lot of things we didn't do well.”

That’s for sure, as Middleton had four errors and left nine runners on base.

DeForest struck for two runs in the first when Mason Kirchberg — who had three hits and four RBI on the day — ripped a two-run single to left. The Norskies added four more runs in the second inning behind two hits and three Middleton errors to take a 6-0 lead.

Reliever Carson Blair did a solid job keeping the Norskies in check. But when DeForest added a run in the fourth, Middleton was staring at a 7-0 hole.

“It was almost going to take a miracle,” Roden said.

Turns out the Cardinals almost had one up their collective sleeve, as they erupted for five runs in the bottom of the fourth and closed within 7-5.

Senior catcher Zach Shipley led off the inning with a single to right, then right fielder Nolan Kelliher was hit by a pitch. Both runners moved up after a passed ball, then senior third baseman Noah Casali ripped a double to the gap in right-center that scored a pair of runs and pulled the Cardinals within 7-2.

Junior center fielder Cooper Holewinski laid down a bunt single putting runners on the corners, then pinch hitter Connor Smith had a sacrifice bunt that moved Holewinski to second. Senior second baseman Joel Ticknor ripped a single to left that plated Casali, and Ticknor moved to second on the throw home.

Roden then smacked a double to right that scored both Holewinski and Ticknor and pulled the Cardinals within 7-5.

“With that five-run inning, we gave ourselves a chance,” Roden said. “I’m proud of our guys. We gave ourselves a chance.”

Brady Schmitt also came on and kept Middleton’s chances alive.

Schmitt threw the final three innings and didn’t allow a run. DeForest’s first batter in the fifth inning reached on an error, then Schmitt retired the next nine batters he faced.

Schmitt struck out three, didn’t walk a batter and threw strikes on 27 of his 42 pitches (64.3%).

“I had confidence in Matt,” Brady Schmitt said. “But even after we fell behind, I still thought we could come back and win, so I just tried to keep us in the game. But we just got down a little too much.”

Middleton had a pair of late chances.

Kelliher and Casali reached with one out in the fifth. But DeForest reliever Blake Flynn worked out of that jam.

Then in the sixth, Roden had a one-out single and Luke Ballweg reached on an error. But Flynn again escaped trouble, then worked a perfect seventh inning.

Just like that, it was over.

“To not be able to play with these guys and this team again … it hurts,” Brady Schmitt said. “We were a solid, talented team and we all thought we could go a long ways. But it didn’t happen.”

Added Roden: “This was the best year of baseball I’ve ever had. Two years ago, we went to state, but there’s nothing like playing with your own class. I’m definitely proud of winning the Big Eight and really proud of what we did. But I guess we’ll always kind of wonder what could have happened.”


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