Playing loose leads to baseball title for USM
Team claims school's first baseball state title
When Madison Edgewood scored four third-inning runs in a WIAA Division 2 state semifinal game on June 16, the University School of Milwaukee baseball team wasn't discouraged - it was energized.
"That was no big deal; we just needed to get some runs," coach Tim Bartz said. "The guys didn't press, and they didn't stress out."
That was partially because they had been there before. Earlier this season, Racine St. Catherine hit the Wildcats with six in the first inning but USM rallied for a 12-6 triumph. Even more remarkably, the Wildcats came back from a 13-3 deficit with 14 runs in the top of the seventh in a 22-14 victory over St. John Northwestern Military Academy.
As it had in those games, USM simply chipped away at Edgewood, scoring in four of the next five innings, including two in the bottom of the seventh, to prevail by an 8-7 count.
The next day, the Wildcats downed Altoona, 8-3, to claim their first Division 2 championship in school history with a 24-7 mark.
"I must have said this about 50 times now, but it was awesome," Bartz said about winning the title. "That is a difficult feat to accomplish, being the top team among 96. That was a realistic goal for us, and now we hold it (the crown) and no one can take it away from us."
USM began its comeback against Edgewood in the third inning when senior Charlie James singled in one run and senior Alex Tesensky came home on a balk.
The Wildcats trailed 6-3 going into the bottom of the sixth but James singled to center to drive in two runs and sophomore Josh Baker brought in another on a groundout to tie the game at 6-6.
Edgewood took a 7-6 lead in the seventh, but again, the Wildcats rallied. Senior Charlie Wigdale started the inning by advancing all the way to third on a throwing error.
"That Fox Cities Stadium is so large," Bartz said. "We told the guys that on an error, we can probably get two extra bases."
After sophomore Tommy Pennington walked, sophomore Nathan Burke laid down a squeeze bunt to bring home Wigdale with the tying run. After another bunt and an intentional walk to load the bases, Tesensky came to the plate.
"That's the kid you want up there," Bartz said of Tesensky, who had led USM's hockey team to a state crown this year. "He's been in big situations."
Tesensky worked the count to 3-2, then fouled a pitch off catcher Ben Young's mask. Young dropped to the dirt and was down for about 20 minutes, eventually being replaced.
After that long wait, Tesensky sent a fly ball to centerfield and Pennington scored the winning run on a bang-bang play at the plate as the new catcher dropped the ball.
James finished with two hits and three runs batted in for USM, which had only five hits but took advantage of three Edgewood errors. Baker worked five innings and Tesensky picked up the victory in relief.
In the title game, USM built a 4-0 lead before Altoona's Joel Johnson belted a three-run home run in the third. Again, no one on the Wildcats panicked.
"I said we just need to keep scoring runs, maybe a run an inning, the rest of the way," Bartz said.
The Wildcats did just that, pulling away to claim the state championship.
"We had no errors in that game," Bartz said. "When we were given an extra base, we took it, and when they made a mistake, we took advantage of it."
In the third, for example, after two quick outs, Burke reached on a dropped fly ball and junior Taylor Schaefer immediately singled him home to put USM up 5-3.
James drove in two runs and senior Peyton Stanford, Baker and Burke each had two hits. Bartz used four pitchers, with sophomore Lane Stanford getting the victory and Tesensky the save.
"We had enough arms (pitchers) this year that I could give (batters) a lot of different looks," Bartz said. "Baker was our number one and Tesensky our closer, and after that, we mixed and matched."
Hitting was never a question for the Wildcats, who batted .380 as a team.
"The key was that they all played in the summer leagues," the coach said. "They were really dedicated to baseball and all those extra at-bats helped."
Seniors Wigdale, Peyton Stanford, Chris Schluter, Billy Schmidt, James and Tesensky will depart but many standouts such as Baker, Pennington and Burke will be back next year as Bartz tries to continue the upward trend of USM baseball.
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