By Brian Kalish
The Plover Black Sox have seen their share of thrilling victories this season, but perhaps none was as thrilling– or as satisfying– as their 8-7 win over Wausau in the AAA Legion Regional played at Bukolt Park in Stevens Point on Wednesday evening.
And while there was no shortage of heroes in this contest, Plover’s Jacob Ligenza grabbed the headline as he knocked an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings, then belted a drive to deep center field in the bottom of the eleventh inning, breaking a 7-7 tie with a sacrifice fly and producing the winning run for the Black Sox.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Ligenza. “Especially in the regional. I couldn’t ask for a better ending than this. The feeling is unbelievable right now to keep sending our team to the next level and getting closer to state.”
Plover coach Wayne Sankey said the Ligenza deserves the success he achieved against Wausau.
“Jake Ligenza, just huge,” Sankey said. “I just couldn’t be happier for a kid who deserves it.”
After Ligenza connected on a fastball from Wausau’s Ben Schubring in the eleventh inning to plate the winning run, Plover’s dugout swarmed the field in jubilation– a stark contrast to the feeling for the Black Sox and their fans just moments earlier.
After Plover starter Alex Lee limited the Bulldogs to just two runs in sevens innings of work, Wausau found an offensive rhythm against Sox’ reliever Nick Schroeder. Wausau, down 6-3 in the top of the ninth inning, managed to plate four runs and take a 7-6 lead into the final half inning of regulation.
Wausau’s offensive assault in the ninth was led by Andrew Block and Jacob Raeder, both of whom doubled and drove in runs. However, it was a line drive RBI by Alex Osness that drove in Raeder to give Wausau the lead and, seemingly, shift momentum in the Bulldogs’ favor.
Giving up four runs–and the lead– in what should have been the final frame may have been a tough pill to swallow, but Plover bounced back in their half of the ninth, led by- you guessed it- Jake Ligenza.
After pinch hitter Johl Turzinski walked with one out in the bottom of the ninth, then stole second base, Ligenza produced by driving Turzinski in with an RBI single to knot the score and send the game into extra innings.
According to both Ligenza and Sankey, there was no sense of panic when the team fell behind in the ninth.
“We just went up there knowing we had to have quality at bats,” said Ligenza of Plover’s approach at the plate in the bottom of the ninth. “(We had to) take a lot of pitches and make the pitcher work, then find our pitch and tee off on it and get runners in.”
“We came in and we knew we were scoring off that pitcher,” Sankey said. “We had scored in the eighth and we said just be patient and get a guy on base and we’ll get a guy in scoring position.”
While Plover struggled a bit on the base paths throughout the game, stumbling into three outs at third base on pick offs and a botched suicide squeeze attempt, the Sox got stellar performances from Tyler Nalbach, who finished the game three hits, including a double, and Cal Giese, who doubled and had two RBI.
On the mound, Slowey came on in relief of Schroeder and, after yielding the go- ahead run to Wausau in the ninth, struck out the side in the tenth, then fanned two more batters in the eleventh, setting up his team for the dramatic finish.
“The ninth inning, they put me in to get the outs and I didn’t come through for my team,” Slowey said. “Coming into the next inning, I put everything I had into that. I didn’t want to lose. I didn’t want to let my team down.”
Now at 2-0 in the tournament, Plover will face the winner of Marshfield vs. Stevens Point. That game will take place at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday at Bukolt Park.
WP: Slowey LP: Schubring
2B: (Plover) Ligenza, Giese, Slowey, Nalbach; (Wausau) Nelson, Raeder (2), Block