Nicolet stuns Whitefish Bay, 14-2, in regional game
Knights lost twice previously to Blue Dukes
"If you had to win only one (against Bay), it was good to win this one."
That happy shout from the Nicolet side of the throng in place at Aaron Field on June 9 told the tale of a remarkably one-sided WIAA regional semifinal baseball battle, as 10th-seeded Nicolet stunned its seventh-seeded North Shore archrival Whitefish Bay with a fast start and never looked back in a 14-2, six-inning rout.
The Blue Dukes, who beat the Knights twice already this season (12-0 and 7-6), were no match for the inspired Nicolet team, which improved 14-15 and advanced to last Friday's regional final at second-seeded Cedarburg (see separate story) while Bay's up-and-down season ended at 16-15.
The Knights wound up falling in the WIAA sectional final Monday by a 4-3 score (see separate story).
Nicolet coach Jason Grodsky pointed to sophomore second baseman Alex Braun's bullet double to the left-center-field fence with the bases loaded in the first as the key blow against Bay. It gave the Knights a 3-0 lead and they never trailed after that.
"We talked about having a fast start," Grodsky said, "about attacking the strike zone. This was just a night where we put in place and executed everything we've been trying all season. It all came together."
Yes it did. Using an aggressive attitude, the Knights put the ball in play often and almost always when needed.
The Blue Dukes had a hard time keeping up. Three errors and Braun's RBI single in the third led to two more runs and a 5-0 lead.
In the interim, Nicolet senior starter Hunter Crass (four strikeouts and one walk) had a good curveball going and with the advantage of the lead, pounded the strike zone relentlessly against the Blue Dukes, who didn't get anything going until the bottom of the fourth.
Silver linings, dark clouds
In that frame, Blue Duke first baseman Cal Gavic, who the inning before had made a sensational diving catch in foul ground, ripped a two-run single past the third baseman to make it 5-2.
But even that silver lining had a dark cloud, as Gavic had to come out with a leg injury.
Bay subsequently loaded the bases in the frame and had a chance to pull even closer, but then Crass got a strikeout to end the threat. Crass wound up putting down the final seven Bay batters in order, limiting the Blue Dukes to just three total hits.
"It's hard to win any game that way," Wojcinski said.
Nicolet then chased Blue Duke starter and loser Joe Kaszubowski with a four-run fifth, as Kaszubowski made two errors on a two-on, none-out bunt. That play scored one run. It was followed by a sacrifice fly from Matt Appleby, a successful safety squeeze by Brett Keiper for another score and an RBI single by Crass's twin brother Tyler.
Bay coach Jay Wojcinski had to go to team ace Nick Lackney to try and stem the bleeding, but by that time it was too late. All told, Bay would commit six errors on the evening.
"Give Nicolet credit," Wojcinski said. "They came to play tonight. When they needed a hit, they got one. When they needed to make a play in the field, they did and when Hunter (Crass) needed to make a pitch, he did.
"This was just very frustrating. This was not the way we expected to go out. ...But all the little mistakes we've been making this summer, we made them over and over again tonight."
Braun leads the way
Thanks to a series of baserunning moves, excellent bunting and more aggressiveness, Nicolet was able to close the deal with five more runs in the sixth.
Braun, who was brought up partway through the summer and who has been a find ever since for Grodsky and the Knights, led the way with three hits and four RBIs while Tyler Crass had three hits and two RBIs.
"Yeah, we really wanted to win this one," Braun said, echoing the Knights supporter who shouted at the end of the game, "and that start was was exactly what we needed. That pitch was straight down the middle (in the first) and I wanted to get us started by getting some runs in.
"That got our bench going and they were great tonight (with their energy and enthusiasm)."
Grodsky was pleased with the turnabout from the two earlier Bay games.
"This game was just the opposite of those," he said. "We'd make a mistake or two and they'd pounce right on us. Tonight it was us taking advantage of their mistakes. Tonight we jumped on them and capitalized on our opportunities.
"It was great to see so much excitement in our dugout."
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