Tags: Feature Sports Story, Sports
Derek Denecke is hitting over .600 this season. Mike Ramczyk. (click for larger version)
May 07, 2013 | 04:06 PMBURLINGTON — "The only reason it's a big game is because we've played well enough to make it a big game, and so have they."
Those were the words of Badger head coach Aaron Zweifel moments after his team dropped a pivotal Southern Lakes Conference battle, 4-2, to Burlington Monday at Beaumont Field.
A pretty upbeat attitude after a loss to say the least. But why shouldn't Zweifel be positive?
The Badgers bumped up one spot from No. 8 to 7 this week in the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association state rankings. They are now 10-3 overall and 8-2 in the SLC, good for first place. Also, Zweifel knew he had his ace pitching the next day in the rematch.
But the offense never really got going for the visiting Badgers Monday night. Burlington took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first and that held until the bottom of the third, when the Demons plated a run on a bloop single and another on a booming double to the fence in center field. Down 3-0, Badger starting pitcher Travis Stahulak was visibly frustrated on the mound.
"I just didn't seem to get much of my stuff working until later in the game," Stahulak said after the game. "It was frustrating how a lot of their hits were bloop shots over the infield. But that's baseball."
Burlington avenged two extra-inning losses to Badger from last year. Now 7-2 in conference, the Demons only trail Badger by a half game in the standings.
"We needed to get over that mental hurdle of beating Badger," Burlington coach Scott Staude said. "They have a very good ball club."
Badger's Jonah Zeinert gave Stahulak some run support in the fourth. The tall, powerful first baseman crushed a fastball well over the fence in right-center field for a solo shot to cut the lead to 3-1.
However, the Demons answered right away in the fourth. After two bunts put runners on the corners, Ian Weber, Eric Skipper and Zeinert turned a textbook 4-6-3 double play, but another run scored to extend the lead to 4-1.
Stahulak settled down, though, and retired the next seven of eight batters. Meanwhile, in the sixth, Badger junior Derek Denecke, who has been on a tear, singled and scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-2.
After two outs in the top of the seventh, Badger put together a mini-rally. Mitch Jensen stroked a single to left followed by a base hit from pinch hitter Gunner Losch. However, Weber grounded into a force out at second base to end the game.
Stahulak struck out eight and held the Burlington offense in check for the most part. The Demons were sparked by their ace pitcher, Nolan Friend. The southpaw struck out seven and scattered five hits in the complete game victory.
It was Friend's fourth win of the season, and his earned-run average is 1.52.
"He kept us guessing all night," Zweifel said of Friend.
Stahulak dropped to 4-1, and his stellar ERA fell to 0.88.
"Burlington got bunts down when it counted," Zweifel said. "We miscommunicated on a couple of those and gave them two big innings. Sometimes, that happens. We didn't help ourselves. They deserved to win. Nine of out 10 times, holding the other team to four runs is enough."
Denecke, who is batting .609 in limited action this season, was 2-for-2 to lead the Badgers. He extended his hitting streak to seven games.
"Talk about taking advantage of an opportunity," Zweifel said of Denecke. "Derek got a chance and got put in right field. At one point, he was 12-for-16. It couldn't happen to a better kid. He works his butt off and does his job. Even when he wasn't playing, he was a great teammate."
Badger returns home to face Janesville Craig Monday.
Badger's pitching has been the biggest reason it is ranked in the state and leading the conference.
As a pitching staff, the Lake Geneva boys have combined for an impressive 1.52 ERA.
Along with lefties Andresen and Stahulak dominating at the top of the rotation, Skipper, Weber, Zeinert and Tom Ritzman all have ERAs of 1.40 or better. Weber and Skipper haven't allowed an earned run in 17 2/3 innings.
"Our pitching has been really good," Zweifel said. "Our starting pitching has been fantastic. Guys like Weber, Zeinert and Skipper have stepped up in a big way. Anybody we put out there, they are throwing strikes. We have been hitting the ball well, too."
The team is batting .319 overall, and five guys (Denecke, Krien, Skipper, Bobula and Andresen) are hitting above .300.
Badger sweeps Delavan
On May 2, Badger completed its two-game sweep of the Comets, 4-2. On April 30, Badger destroyed Delavan, 12-1.
In the second game, Badger put up a four spot in the fifth to take the lead. Stahulak and Krien each tallied two hits.
On the mound, Andresen got the win, allowing no earned runs in six innings and striking out seven.
On April 30 at home, Badger led, 6-0, through three innings and tacked on two more in the fifth and four in the sixth.
Jensen paced the boys with three hits and four RBIs, and Denecke and Bobula each notched two hits.
Stahulak struck out nine and scattered six hits in six innings.