By Brian Kalish
When the Plover Black Sox and Marshfield Blue Devils met for the AAA Legion Regional championship game on Friday night, some fireworks were to be expected. But it’s doubtful that anyone could have predicted just how volatile the night would turn out to be.
Marshfield took the first game 7-1, forcing a second game due to the fact that it was Plover’s first loss in the double elimination tournament.
The Blue Devils’ victory in the first contest was due in large part to the stellar pitching performance of Jake Brueggen, who went eight innings, giving up just six hits and walking only three. Brueggen pounded the strike zone all night and effectively alternated his fastball with off speed pitches. And, unlike the game against Plover the previous night in which Marshfield committed five errors, the Blue Devils’ defense was nearly flawless.
Plover coach Wayne Sankey tipped his hat to Brueggen.
“You know, he just threw off speed and lefty on lefty match ups are tough when it’s slow,” Sankey said. “But he’s beaten us before this year and it’s just a tough match up for us I guess.”
“He pitched a hell of a game,” said Marshfield coach John Southworth. “We played good defense in that game.”
Unfortunately for Blue Devils’ fans, Marshfield’s defense was anything but good in the decisive second contest.
After the Blue Devils jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, and with momentum from Marshfield’s first victory seeming to carry over, Plover’s offense, which was virtually invisible against Brueggen, suddenly began to show signs of life.
The Sox put up four runs through four and a half innings and took a 4-2 lead to the bottom of the fifth.
And that’s when things started to get a little crazy.
Plover’s defense seemed to get out of the bottom of the fifth on what would turn out to be a highly controversial call. Marshfield’s Shane Coker appeared to interfere with Plover shortstop Tyler Nalbach while sliding into second base and attempting to break up a double play. Because it was ruled interference, both Coker and Nolan Matson, who hit a grounder to kick off the play, were both called out and the inning was over.
Not so fast.
The officiating crew met at the edge of the infield between innings for what seemed like an eternity, then waved Marshfield’s defense off the field, ruling that Coker hadn’t interfered with Nalbach.
Sox’ skipper Wayne Sankey made a spirited argument against the non-interference call, but to no avail.
“The one thing I didn’t like about that call was it got changed afterwards,” Sankey said. “If you’re going to call it, make it right away. It’s just one of those things, but we didn’t let it bother us.”
The officiating gaffe (or correction, depending on how you look at it) loomed large as Marshfield went on to score a run in the extended inning on a wild pitch by Sox’ starter Alex Lee to trim the lead to 4-3. However, Plover used the reversed call as motivation.
“We refocused and we we got some more energy after that,” Sankey said. “And that’s huge when you’re playing that many games in a short period of time.”
There is no question that Plover’s offense was aided by horrific play by the Blue Devils as Marshfield’s defense imploded in the top of the seventh.
The Blue Devils committed four errors– count them, four— in the top of the seventh, resulting in four runs for the Black Sox and effectively punching Plover’s ticket to the state tournament.
“I have no idea what happened,” said Southworth of Marshfield’s meltdown in the seventh. “I mean, it wasn’t like the plays were difficult. These players are good baseball players, so I don’t really have an answer for it.”
In all, Marshfield committed seven errors, while Plover had only one defensive miscue.
The offensive highlight for the Black Sox was yet another home run by Alex Slowey, while Marshfield got a double by Trevor Schwecke.
With the game in hand in the ninth inning, Plover ace Cal Giese struck out Sam Neville for the final out to deliver the regional title to the Black Sox, their fifth consecutive regional crown.
“Those guys have really battled,” said Sankey. “Alex Lee and Nick Schroeder and obviously Cal Giese there at the end… And our bats came back to life in the second game. They stayed positive and stuck with each other. You know it’s not easy to do after you get beat pretty handily in the first game and you come back and take care of business in game two. It just shows that we’ve got a bunch of guys who just battle and they’ve been there before and they came through in the clutch again.”
Marshfield’s season comes to an end while Plover will travel to Watertown on Tuesday, July 28 to open state tournament play.
WP: Brueggen LP: Slowey
2B: (Marshfield) Donahue, Dupee; (Plover) Giese
3B: (Marshfield) Matson
WP: Lee LP: Binder
2B: (Marshfield) Schwecke
HR: (Plover) Slowey