Baseball Cards win playoff opener

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Rob Reischel
Nolan Dunn and Middleton’s baseball team toppled Madison East in a regional semifinal Tuesday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Middleton junior Easton Zempel didn’t have to be perfect on Tuesday afternoon.

But the 6-foot-6 right-hander, who is an imposing figure on the mound, came close.

Zempel threw 5 1/3 innings of no-hit ball and allowed just four baserunners, including a sixth-inning bloop single, to help third-seeded Middleton blank sixth-seeded Madison East 7-0 in a WIAA Division 1 regional semifinal at Middleton High School.

Middleton (17-9) advanced to the regional championship game against host second-seeded DeForest (19-3), an 8-6 winner over seventh-seeded Madison West, on Thursday.

“My fastball was working really well,” said Zempel, who needed just 85 pitches to dispose of the Regents and allowed only four balls to be hit out of the infield. “My slider was working really well, too. I was hitting my spots.”

Zempel took control from the game-opening pitch, throwing first-pitch strikes to the top of the East lineup and retiring them in order in the top of the first inning to set the tone.

“I felt confident out there,” Zempel said. “About the fourth or fifth (inning) I went, ‘Coach, I can go all the way.’ ”

Middleton scored the only run it would need in the bottom of the second inning when Nolan Dunn reached on an error and eventually scored when Nolan Smith lined a single to right field.

The Cardinals added an insurance run in the fourth inning when Smith drew a one-out walk, moved to second on Hayden Hellenbrand’s ground ball to shortstop and scored when Erik Pongratz ripped a double to left-center field.

“I was looking for a pitch I could drive,” Pongratz said. “A two-run game then was major. We needed anything to take the pressure off our pitcher. That gave him a little bit of a cushion. He didn’t have to be perfect. But it certainly eases your conscience to be up by two (runs) instead of one.”

Zempel retired the first eight batters he faced before Manny Bingham reached on an infield error, but was promptly erased on a base running mistake.

“His slider was really working,” Middleton catcher Robby Erickson said of Zempel. “It was probably moving around 14 inches. It was nasty. He was throwing just sliders to the last few hitters, and they couldn’t touch it.”

Zempel allowed a leadoff walk to Jack Hussin in the fifth inning. Hussin got as far as third base before Zempel struck out Drew Dederich and Jesse Hussin to end the threat.

Middleton then iced the game with a five-run outburst in the fifth inning, ignited by Zempel’s leadoff triple.

“This might be surprising to people outside of the program, Easton’s got pretty good speed,” Middleton manager Brent Jorgensen said. “He came out of the (batter’s) box hard, looking for extra bases.

“That was his fifth triple of the season. He can run and you have to be able to hit the ball to all fields to do that. Hopefully he’ll be able to get one or two more before the year is out. ”

Aidan Williams singled to left field to score Zempel to push the lead to 3-0. After Jacob Andler singled to right and moved to second on an error, Nolan Dunn drove in Williams with a single to center field.

David Meier followed with a two-run triple into the right field corner and scored on Smith’s suicide squeeze to end the scoring.

Zempel’s no-hit bid was still intact when Jalen Johnson drew a lead-off walk for East in the top of the sixth inning. Zempel struck out Bingham before East leadoff hitter Eamonn Mulhern dropped a 2-0 pitch into center field to break up the no-hitter.

“I actually did,” Zempel said when asked if he knew he was dancing with destiny and a no-hit game. “But I tried not to think about it, just keep throwing strikes and doing what I was doing.”

Middleton opened the season defeating East, 8-2, at home on April 27 and 12-1 on the road on April 29.

The Cardinals didn’t take anything for granted, though, especially when Purgolders’ starter Mulhern held Middleton to one earned run on three hits through the first four innings.

“He pitched pretty well when we played (East) the first game of the year,” Jorgensen said of Mulhern. “We got most of our runs later in the game when they were forced to go to their bullpen.

“He was tough for us to figure out. He was sneaky with his fastball that got on you a little bit quicker than most guys. He mixes pitches really well. That’s the part of the season we’re at. You’re going to get everybody’s best pitcher, and you’re going to have to find ways to scratch out runs to win.” 

Madison East manager Matt McClenaghan was proud of his team’s effort.

We can play with people,” McClenaghan said. “We just had a bad inning. We kicked the ball around a little today. That’s been part of our problem, too. “But they’re very good, and (Easton) pitched a great game today.”

Zempel, who aspires to play baseball in college, got stronger as the game went on.

Jorgensen said Zempel’s physical presence on the mound has an impact on opposing hitters.

“He’s a big, strong kid who has room to fill out on his frame,” Jorgensen said. “He’s tall, he gets on you quick. He throws a pretty firm fastball. But it is multiplied when his length is on you.

“To shut anybody down and give up one hit and throw 85 pitches in seven innings is phenomenal. He really set the tone for us.”

• Sun Prairie 11, Middleton 5 — Visiting Sun Prairie overcame a 4-1 deficit and defeated Middleton in the seventh annual “Cardinals Strikeout Cancer” game.

Middleton took a 4-1 lead after the first inning. But Sun Prairie struck for four runs in the second and five in the fourth to pull away.

Nolan Smith went 2-for-3 with a triple for Middleton.

• Sun Prairie 11, Middleton 2 — Host Sun Prairie broke open a 2-2 tie with nine runs in the fourth and fifth innings and downed Middleton on June 9.

Middleton managed just six hits and was plagued by three errors.

• Middleton 6, Janesville Parker 1 — Nolan Smith threw five strong innings and notched the win as the host Cardinals toppled the Vikings on June 8. Hayden Hellenbrand worked the final two innings.

Aidan Williams, Matt Zimmerman and Smith all had two hits for Middleton.


June 15

WIAA Division 1 Regional semifinal

Middleton 7, Madison East 0

Madison East …... 000 000 0 — 0 1 4

Middleton …….…. 010 150 x — 7 9 1

Pitchers (ip-h-r-er-so-bb) — ME: Eamonn Mulhern (L: 5.0-9-7-6-5-1), Cole Frost-Ohlsen (1.0-0-0-0-1-1); Mid: Easton Zempel (W: 7-1-0-0-7-2).

Leading hitters — Mid: Jacob Andler 2x4, Erik Pongrats (2B), Easton Zempel (3B), David Meier (3B).


June 10


Sun Prairie ………………. 140 501 0 — 11 11 0

Middleton ………………… 400 100 0 — 5 9 3

Pitchers (ip-h-r-er-so-bb) — SP: Stevens (W; 5-5-1-1-8-1), Moreno (1-4-4-3-0-0), Caron (1-0-0-0-2-0); M: Williams (L; 3.2-6-9-5-2-3), Pincombe (3.1-5-2-1-1-0).

Leading hitters — SP: Caron 2x4 (HR, 2B), Radlund 2x3 (HR), Hamilton (HR); M: Smith 2x3 (3B), Pongratz (2B).

June 9


Middleton ………….. 101 000 0 — 2 6 3

Sun Prairie …………… 011 450 x — 11 12 1

Pitchers (ip-h-r-er-so-bb) — M: Zempel (L; 3.1-6-6-5-4-3), Pincombe (0.2-0-0-0-0-0), Hockers (2-6-5-4-1-1); SP: Hunley (W; 6-5-2-1-4-2), Caron (1-1-0-0-1-0).

Leading hitters — M: Pongratz (2B); SP: Shepard 2x3 (2B), Hamilton 2x4 (4BI), Radlund 2x3, Stevens 2x3, Hunley 2x3.


June 8


J. Parker …………….. 000 010 0 — 1 8 1

Middleton …………….. 310 002 x — 6 10 4

Pitchers (ip-h-r-er-so-bb) — JP: King (L; 1.2-5-4-2-0-1), Smith (4.1-5-2-2-1-2); Mid: Smith (W; 5.0-6-1-0-1-2), Hellenbrand (2.0-2-0-0-2-0).

Leading hitters — Mid: Andler (2B), Dunn (2B), Williams 2x3, Smith 2x4, Zimmerman 2x4.



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