GRAND CHUTE — Every time things didn’t go its way on Tuesday, Eau Claire North fought back.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, the comeback train ran out of steam in the end.
North’s season came to an end with a wild 12-8 loss to Waunakee in the WIAA Division 1 baseball state quarterfinals at Fox Cities Stadium. The Huskies rallied from a 5-0 deficit to make a game of it, but the Warriors would not be denied. Five errors didn’t help North’s cause either.
“We competed right back into the thing,” Huskies coach Bob Johnson said. “We got the game back to 0-0 two times in late innings and crucial situations. So I’m really proud of the guys for fighting back like that, but obviously disappointed with the result.”
Waunakee (19-6) took an early 2-0 lead with single runs scored in the first and third innings before pushing across three in the fourth on three straight RBI hits.
That jolted the Huskies (21-4) to life. North plated five runs in the top of the fifth inning to tie the game. The rally was started by a booming two-RBI triple by Sam Stange to deep center field to get North on the board.
“We kind of knew at some point we were going to get the bats going,” Stange said. “When we got that going, it was cool to see. Just hit after hit.”
Jeffrey Pippenger and Tyler Greenlund added RBI singles in the frame. Greenlund, the catcher, legged out an infield hit by diving into first base to beat the throw and plate a run.
The tie was short-lived though. Waunakee retook the lead on a North error, and an RBI single by Ryne Fueger stretched the advantage to two runs.
“We were very disappointed with our defensive effort,” Johnson said. “That was probably more errors than we made in the last two months.”
It set the stage for another North comeback, and the Huskies delivered. After back-to-back singles by Stange and Pippenger, Jaelin Williams snuck a two-RBI double inside the right-field foul line to knot the score at 7.
Waunakee took the game back into their hands with a huge five-run sixth inning to pull out to a 12-7 lead. The Warriors’ explosion was highlighted by a three-RBI double by Ben Nordloh and Jarrett Fueger’s RBI double.
“They maybe hit the ball a little bit better than I anticipated,” Johnson said. “Our pitching staff’s been pretty clean all year. (Waunakee) competed out there and may be one of the better hitting teams we’ve seen all year.”
Down to its final three outs, North again showed heart. Pippenger drove in a run with an RBI single, and the Huskies loaded the bases to bring the tying run to the plate with two outs.
That was as far as they would get. A groundout to second base ended the game.
“It took a little to get into the game obviously,” Greenlund said. “The last half of the game we came together, but we just couldn’t put it all together.”
This was the Huskies’ third straight trip to the state tournament. The team’s seniors helped get North back to the game’s biggest stage consistently, and compete while there.
“It is quite a feat to get through our sectional three times, and obviously these seniors were a big part of that,” Johnson said.
North won 66 games over the last three years, and lost just 11.
“I wouldn’t want to end my senior season, my high school sports career at any other place than this place with this team,” Greenlund said. “Our team doesn’t have any regrets with how we played.”