Eau Claire North made it official, gaining a fourth straight trip to the state tournament.
This one is special.
“I was real emotional with the team,” coach Bob Johnson said. “The first 1-2-3 were about the program and tradition. This time it was for the kids.
“They battled all season and now it is time to enjoy. We’re still alive.”
In the finish of Tuesday night’s game suspended in the third inning by inclement weather, the Huskies put a finish to it with a 9-3 win over Wisconsin Rapids in the championship game of the WIAA Division 1 sectional Wednesday afternoon at sunny Carson Park.
“This is awesome,” said Sam Stange, a major player in the team’s success. “Coach talked about how tough it is to get out of the sectional. So to be that consistent feels really good.”
Anthony Pogodzinski, who poked Wednesday’s second pitch high over the right field fence, gets a chance to contribute after being a backup last year.
“It felt good to be there, but this is even better getting a chance to help the team,” he said. “Our team is playing at its best and anything can happen.”
The Huskies (22-4) will face Sussex Hamilton in a 1 p.m. game Tuesday at Grand Chute.
North took the field Wednesday with a 6-0 lead and no one out in the bottom of the third inning.
Pogodzinski, the first batter, took a ball, and then licked his chops waiting for the next one.
“He gave me the same pitch but this one was between the waist and knees, where I like it,” the junior first baseman said. “I swung and it felt good.”
It didn’t surprise Johnson.
“Pogo’s got a .680 slugging percentage, he’s taken 20 walks and eight hit by pitches. He just doesn’t strike out.”
The Huskies coasted the rest of the way against a Wisconsin Rapids team that had upset top seed Stevens Point in the semifinals and had to make the bus ride home Tuesday night and return again Wednesday morning.
“We had our mind set on winning, it was a new day and a new opportunity.” said veteran Rapids Coach Bob Gawlitta who guided his team to a 20-8 record. “We didn’t talk about the travel, we make no excuses.”
Both teams faced pitching shortage as all who had thrown in Tuesday’s action were eliminated for mound work Wednesday due to a pitching rule.
“Losing our top three made it a challenge,” Johnson said. “I’m extremely proud of the way the kids came through.”
After Austin Goetsch had pitched three innings of shutout ball Tuesday before the rains came, Xavier Bembnister got the start Wednesday and worked three innings with Joel Zachow closing out.
“Xavier pitched in eight or nine games and showed us a lot of confidence,” Johnson said. “He may not have been at his best but he gave us three innings.”
And then there is Stange, the heart and soul of the team who pitched seven innings of shutout ball in relief to save Tuesday’s 5-4 11-inning win against Marshfield.
“Going to state never gets old, we just have to stick to our game,” Stange said.
“If we get the pitching we’ll be okay. Everyone is hitting.”
Led by Stange. In the two games, he rapped eight hits in nine trips including a homer and two doubles until Rapids finally walked him intentionally. His output included a homer off the scoreboard Tuesday as the last batter in the suspended game.
“Sam is special, you watch him on the ice rink or baseball field and you can see what kind of athlete he is,” Johnson said. “He’s so modest. He’s in charge of at-bats. He leads by example and that’s contagious.”
Stange and Pogodzinski may have made some kind of crazy history, hitting back-to-back home runs about 18 hours apart.
But as they say, it was a complete team effort with almost everyone pitching in. In the two games, Gabe O’Brien slammed two doubles, Carter Hesselman went 4-for-8 and freshman Gabe Richardson had two hits and drove in two runs besides Pogodzinski’s five runs batted in.
Rapids had the consolation of battling North to a 3-3 standoff in Wednesday’s resumed play. Donovan Brandl and Gabe Zwicke each had two hits for the Red Raiders. Nathan Krommenakker and Cody Bredl did a solid job on the mound.
Rapids had lost two games to high-ranked Stevens Point during the regular season so its 6-4 win in the semis was a season highlight.
North’s return to state ranks as quite an accomplishment. The Huskies had to replace seven starters from a year ago and relied on pitchers Stange and Hesselman to keep them in the Big Rivers Conference race, which they finished tied for second behind champion River Falls.
“In a mission statement, we had to build fortitude for the grind ahead,” Johnson said.
And now it’s back to the state tournament.
NORTH 9, WISCONSIN RAPIDS 3
WIS RAPIDS (3)
AB-R-H-RBI: Nathan Krommenakker,, lf\p\rf, 4-0-1-1, Jacob Wipfli, ss, 4-0-1-0, Donovan Brandl, 1b, 4-0-2-1, Josh Zwicke, c, 3-0-1-0, Tyler Beyer, 3b, 3-0-1-0, Garrett Huber, cf, 2-1-0-0, Cody Bredl, 2b\p, 3-0-0-0, Gabe Zwicke, dh, 3-1-2-1, Jack Wenzel, rf\2b, 1-1-1-0, Zach Hamel, cr, 0-0-0-0. Totals 27-3-9-3.
Gabe O’Brien, rf, 4-0-0-0, Carter Hesselman, ss, 2-2-1-0, Sam Stange, cf, 3-3-3-2, Anthony Pogodzinski, 1b, 3-3-2-3, Gabe Richardson, 3b, 3-0-1-1, Cal Fadness, dh, 3-0-0-1, Joel Zachow, 2b\p, 3-1-1-0, Joe Feck, c, 3-0-1-1, Keegan Dehnke, lf, 3-0-0-0, Totals 27-9-9-8.
Wis Rapids 000 012 0 — 3 9 3
North 313 020 x — 9 9 0
E — Huber, Beyer, Brandl. LOB — Rapids 7, North 4. 2B – Pogodzinski, Krommenakker.. HR – Stange, Pogodzinski. SAC – Wenzel.
IP H R ER BB SO
Erik Steinhilber, L 2 6 6 6 1 0
Krommenakker 2 3 3 3 2 3
Bredl 2 0 0 0 1 3
Austin Goetsch, W 3 2 0 0 0 1
Xavier Bembnister 3 7 3 3 2 2
Zachow 1 0 0 0 0 1
WP – Steinhilber, Krommenakker.. PB – Zwicke, Feck. HBP – Wenzel (by Bembnister). U – Chuck Morning, Larry Ausman, Paul Ausman; Mike Dwyer, Phil Fieber, Pete Holmlund.. T – 2:04.