Still struggling to regain the mojo that won it 18 straight games and the Greater Metro Conference regular season title, the Oak Creek baseball team was looking for a win anyway it could get it in the third-place tilt of the league tourney with Muskego Wednesday night.
So when pinch-hitter Tanner Johnson surprisingly walked on four pitches to drive in teammate Casey Magyar with the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning, coach Scott Holler was not about to be ungrateful over that unexpected boon.
"We lost to (Menomonee) Falls last week and we lost to Marquette (4-3 in the semifinal) last night," said Holler, "and we act like the world is caving in on us. I had to remind them that we're 25-4. Sometimes the kids just need to be reminded that the game doesn't give you anything."
"You have to go out and earn it."
The game closed the regular season for both Oak Creek and Muskego (22-8) as both begin WIAA tourney play next Tuesday with regional final games at home.
"It was certainly not the way we wanted to lose the game," said Warriors coach Jacob Paige. "It was still a good ballgame though. Both teams struggled a little at first, but then both pitched well and defended well later in the game."
"It's just that we had a hard time solving (Oak Creek pitcher) Hayden (Krimmer) again. That's the second time this season he's come in and shut us down."
And that he did. Krimmer came in for starter Brad Schulte in the fourth inning and the Knights trailing 4-3. Oak Creek had just trimmed a 4-1 deficit in the bottom of the third on RBI doubles by Ryan Ungerecht and Josh Jesko (two hits).
But the Warriors, who had taken advantage of on uncharacteristically sloppy effort by the Knights in the top of the third to score twice (three walks and an error), were threatening to build the lead back up in the fourth with runners on first and second and two out.
However, Krimmer shut the door with a groundout to second and would continue to do so in the next four innings as he allowed only three baserunners, two on errors and the last on Cole Borek's eighth inning two-out single.
That light's-out performance (four strikeouts and no walks) gave the Knights a chance to rally.
"I was just doing my job," said Krimmer. "I've a great defense behind me, a 'no fly zone' outfield and the greatest catcher in the world in Josh (Jesko) to work with. I can't help but have confidence in a situation like that."
Indeed, as first baseman Jordan Hoffmeier highlighted the defensive effort in the fifth when he made a diving, rolling stab of a ball hit towards the hole and in a move worthy of an ESPN "web-gem" flipped the ball while still moving to a hustling Krimmer who tagged the bag for the final out of the inning.
Meanwhile, the Knights finally knotted the game in the fifth when Ungerecht walked with one out, was moved to second on Matt Bautch's bunt and eventually scored on Austin Barbee's two-out single in the hole between first and second.
"That was a nice piece of hitting by Austin," said Paige in admiiration.
The Knights had a chance to pull ahead in the bottom of the sixth with two-on and two out by Muskego's Jake Jewell got a strikeout to end the inning.
"We're just not getting hits in the clutch right now,' said Holler. "We're just having too many strikeouts in those situations." Oak Creek batters struck out eight times against three Muskego pitchers this night.
Oak Creek repeated the problem in the seventh getting men on first and third with two out only to have Jewell induce a fielder's choice to end the threat.
The Knights finally broke through in the eighth as Magyar singled off Jewell with one out. Outfielder Joey Gribble, who scored the Knights first run in the first after walking and then forcing two Warrior throwing errors with his great speed, fought out of a hole in the count to hit a flare down the first base line for a single.
Paige took a chance by intentionally walking Ungerecht, trying to set up the force at the plate, but then Johnson came up and walked to win the game.
"It was just one of those things," said Paige, whose team had fallen, 7-2 to Franklin in the semifinal the night before. "Ending (the regular season) on two consecutive losses is never a good thing, but that's the great thing about the conference tourney. You get three tough games in a row and that's what you want going into the state series."
Borek had two hits while Alex Kozicki drove in three runs for the Warriors. Gribble led the way for the Knights with three hits and two runs scored. The offense has been an issue for the Knights lately said Holler.
"We've been flat for about a week," he noted. "I don't want to say that we cashed it in after we won the (regular season) title, but we're not getting clutch hits right now. Our pitching and our defense are sound, but at the plate, we're a little on edge."
"We're not attacking the ball in certain spots in the order."
Gribble said that the offense will come around soon.
"All we're missing right now is a little situational hitting," he said. "...We have no worries right now. We just need to get more confident at the plate."
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