The rocket of a first-inning double by Whitefish Bay first baseman Andrew James not only tied the game for the Blue Dukes in their WIAA regional baseball final against visiting Shorewood on July 15, but it also marked a bit of a breakthrough for the offensively struggling team.
James and fellow senior Jake Fisher both had two hits and two RBIs, and pinch-hitter Connor Nethen broke open the game with a bases-loaded triple in the fifth, as Bay won the regional title in their final game at Cahill Park with a 9-3 decision.
'I was happy to get it started because once something like that happens, then everyone gets going,' James said.
'We had an error (in the top of the first), and that let them take the lead,' said Blue Duke coach Jay Wojcinski. 'Then we get a double, tie the score and later take the lead. That was huge.'
The Blue Dukes eventually ended their season with a 2-0 loss to NSC champion West Bend West on July 18.
Senior third baseman Fisher, who helped lead the Blue Dukes to a share of the NSC football championship as quarterback last fall, said he was happy to see the team playing well at the end of the season.
'We're going to take a 'Why not us?' approach,' he said. 'We're confident and peaking at the right time of the year. We're riding a lot of confidence right now.'
The Blue Dukes were feeling good heading into the regional final at Cahill Park against the underdog Shorewood squad (6-21), which upset higher-seeded Cedarburg in a regional semifinal Tuesday, July 12, to get to this game.
But an early omen seemed to bode badly for the Blue Dukes. It looked like Kahn was going to work around a two-out walk to Greyhound catcher Ben Grabowski in the first as he got Simon Bjornstad to hit a towering pop-up on the infield.
However, the ball was dropped, the run scored and the Blue Dukes were behind.
But Bay leadoff hitter Chris Siebert singled, and after two groundouts, James rocketed his double off Shorewood starter Benji Bussen to tie the game.
Fisher immediately followed with a single to put Bay ahead for good.
Two innings later in the third, it was almost a mirror image. Siebert walked to start the frame, and two outs later, James ripped a bullet down the first base line to plate another run. Fisher followed with a single to bring James home and make it 4-1.
'No question, the top of their order did a great job of handling the fastball tonight,' said Shorewood coach Josh Lemke.
Still, Shorewood had a lot of the fighting spirit that kept it going despite several recent frustrating losses.
Grabowski walked with two out in the fifth, and Bjornstad boomed a ringing double to right-center to cut the gap to 4-2.
But the momentum would not last. Bjornstad, the pitching star of the Greyhounds' upset over Cedarburg on on July 12, came back on short rest to relieve Bussen in the fifth.
But he was not quite as sharp. A hit batter, a single, walk and a throwing error resulted in one run. After another hit batter and a strikeout, Nethen rocketed a shot to left-center to score three runs and break the game wide open.
'That was just huge,' Wojcinski said. 'That was a tough spot to come into, and he handled it well. He did a great job clutching up.'
After that, Wojcinski was able to pull Kahn (five strikeouts and four walks). Jack Friesch and Will Alt did some solid mop-up work for the Blue Dukes.
A disappointed Shorewood coach Josh Lemke said the Greyhounds, who lost for the third time to the Blue Dukes this season, weren't that far away.
'It was a little bit of a tough strike zone for both teams,' he said, 'but we came out ready to play. We just had a couple of bad breaks ... we wanted to be playing our best ball at the end here, take what we did in the Woodland tourney and bring it into the regionals.'
Shorewood sophomore shortstop Garrison Ferone made several very good plays, including starting a 6-4-3 double play in the sixth. He also ranged halfway across the infield, well past second, on another play to snag a low roller and throw out a Bay runner.
'He's been making plays like that all summer,' Lemke said.
Wojcinski was glad to see the home season end on a good note.
'For sure, it was a great way for the seniors to end their home careers,' Wojcinski said. 'It's always nice to win that final game.'
'It's such a great feeling,' James added.