The good news for the North Shore Conference runner-up Nicolet baseball team just kept coming last week, as the Knights finished a sweep of their final three North Shore Conference games, including a 16-5 decision over Homestead Thursday night.
That sweep allowed the Knights (13-5 in league play and 23-10 overall) to secure second place in the North Shore behind powerhouse West Bend West (15-1, 27-1).
Further, it was learned this week, that resting and nicked up starters outfielder Brian Huntsinger (leg) and Aaron Westling (facial injuries) should be ready to go for the upcoming WIAA tournament series.
Other encouraging personnel moves included finding out that substitutes Andrew Schneider (three RBI) and Peter Maric could be productive when thrust into starting roles as they were against Homestead.
And further, in an event that was no major surprise, the Knights were named the top seed in the WIAA sectional that will be hosted by Cedarburg. Nicolet will open with regional final play on July 20 when the Knights host eighth-seeded Shorewood at Stormonth at 5:30 p.m.
The senior-dominated Knights are motivated by a disappointing showing in the sectional tournament last year, where they again entered at the top seed but lost in the semifinals to eventual state qualifier Homestead.
"Last year, we thought we entered the tournament on a downswing," said senior shortstop Brandon Zall, who was one of four Nicolet players with three or more RBIs in the Homestead win. "This year, we've been able to put everything in order. We're getting healthy and it seems like everyone is on a hot streak."
For Homestead coach Ernie Millard, whose team saw the energy gained with a pair of exciting wins over Slinger and West Bend East earlier this week get dissipated with the disappointing loss, there was no joy in seeing the Knights post a 16-run total on his team for the second time this season.
"We fought back late (after falling behind 12-0), but it's like putting lipstick on a pg," he said. "You look at it again and it's still a pig. I'd like to find out if we could play better against this guys, but the way we played today, we would have had a hard time beating anybody."
"The focus is on just getting better, starting now."
Nicolet will visit Brookfield Central in a 1:30 p.m. nonconference game on Saturday and Homestead will be off until Tuesday, when it hosts Wauwatosa West in a 5:30 p.m. nonconference game.
Homestead will open regional play July 20 at Whitefish Bay at 5:30 p.m. The two teams have split a pair of games this season. The sectional will be held July 23 at Cedarburg and the state tournament will be in Stevens Point, July 28 and 29.
The Knights displayed no interest at all in splitting with the Highlanders, as they jumped all over Homestead starter Max Beckers for six runs in the second inning as Schneider had a two-run single and D.J. Peltz smashed a three-run double off the right-centerfield fence at Rennicke Field.
Nicolet boosted the margin to 11-0 in the third, as Schneider, Joel Sharon and Peltz (four RBI total) all had RBI singles and Maric cracked a run-scoring double.
Knights starter Max Kramsky pitched four innings of one-hit ball (three strikeouts and four walks) for his second win this week before giving way to the bullpen in the fifth. That's when the Highlanders made a mini-rally, as they took advantage of four walks and an RBI single from Tyler Wiedenhoeft to score five runs and cut the deficit to 12-5.
But Nicolet put the mercy rule back into effect in the sixth, as light raindrops began to spatter Mequon. Both Zall (four RBI) and Rob Mayer (three RBI) each laced two-run singles in the frame.
"The kids were a bit excited because it was the last conference game," said Nicolet coach Dick Sykes, "and that helped us jump out on them like we did. And in a situation like that I wasn't surprised that we also lost a little bit of focus too. Fortunately, we were able to get it back in time."
Zall said the team will work hard to maintain that focus all the way back to Stevens Point.
"The priority is state," he said. "As long as we were playing well, anything we got in conference was a bonus, but state is the real goal."
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