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Colton Andresen improved to 7-1 overall this season. He struck out four and scattered seven hits. Mike Ramczyk. (click for larger version)
Peter Krien is fired up after scoring the game-winning run. Mike Ramczyk. (click for larger version)
May 30, 2013 | 08:42 PMThe starting center fielder was out with a broken leg.
The starting shortstop was playing center field.
And there was a 30-minute delay because of severe weather.
But the Badger baseball team fortunately had two constants working in its favor Thursday night against Burlington - Colton Andresen's pitching and Mitch Jensen's clutch hitting.
In a WIAA Division I regional final at Jonas Field in Lake Geneva, Jensen's two-run single in the bottom of the fifth proved to be the game-winner in a 3-2 victory over the Demons.
It was the first playoff win and regional title since 2008 for Badger (14-8), which will battle top-seeded Kenosha Bradford (21-5) Tuesday at UW-Whitewater at 1 p.m. in a sectional semifinal. Bradford beat Westosha Central, 7-0, Thursday night.
Andresen picked up the complete game victory, allowing two runs and striking out four while scattering seven hits. Badger was without center fielder and No. 2 pitcher Travis Stahulak, who broke his leg in a freak accident during practice last Friday. Also, starting outfielder Trent Bobula was out. So shortstop Eric Skipper moved to center, Jensen moved to short from third base, Gunner Losch started at third and Tom Ritzman started in left field.
To make things even more unusual, the game was delayed due to severe weather with one out in the bottom of the sixth and Badger leading, 3-2. Play resumed 30 minutes later, and Andresen had to battle to finish Burlington. In the top of the seventh, he gave up a hit and had runners on first and second with two outs. But Andresen forced Dane Helnore to bounce back to him, and the senior left-hander tossed the ball to first to end the game.
Andresen was excited to notch the first playoff win of his career.
"The delay was tough," he said after the game. "But my arm was feeling good. I was more calm that last inning because I knew the pressure was on them. It definitely means a lot to win."
Jensen was down 1-2 in the count before his game-winning hit off Burlington starting pitcher Dylan Friend, who beat Badger earlier in the season. After weakly fouling off two pitches, Jensen blooped a single over the second baseman's head. Derek Denecke scored from third, and Peter Krien hustled from second base and slid for the game-winning run. Jensen, a senior who is hitting .358, has come through with big hits all season.
"All year long, Mitch has always found a way," Badger coach Aaron Zweifel said. "He has driven in big run after big run every time. I wasn't worried because this is what Mitch does, gets clutch hits in clutch situations. I'm happy for him. He was worked his tail off."
"I can't believe Friend came back with another fastball after throwing two in a row," Jensen said of his game-winning hit. "For a second, I though the right fielder was going to catch it. I try to protect with two strikes. We have been working with each other since second grade, and for it to come together our senior year, it feels great."
It was a back-and-forth chess match between the two rivals Thursday night.
Burlington scored on a throwing error to make it 1-0 in the top of the first. Jensen answered with an RBI single in the bottom of the frame that plated Andresen, knotting things at 1-1.
Andresen allowed a bases-loaded walk in the fifth to give the Demons a 2-1 advantage, but it sparked Badger. In the bottom of the fifth, Denecke led off with a swining bunt down the third-base line. Krien followed that with a line shot down the left-field line, putting runners on first and second.
With two outs, Jonah Zeinert worked the count and walked to load the bases. Jensen then came through with his second and third RBIs of the game. He leads the team with 19 RBIs this season.
"We're all in this together, and the pact that we have is going to carry us through," Jensen said.
It was Zweifel's first playoff win in his five seasons.
"I'm just happy for the seniors," he said. "We have a lot of three-year starters, and they were on that 2-22 team (2011). For them to win conference and go to sectionals, whatever happens from here is icing on the cake. Their legacy is cemented no matter what."
Badger now faces Bradford, the state's No. 3-ranked team in Division I. The Red Devils won state in 2008, and they advanced to state the last two seasons.
"This is a tight-knit group of guys," Zweifel said. "I feel bad for Stu (Stahulak), but we'll have guys that will step up and do what they need to do. Anything goes at sectionals. Bradford is one of those programs you want to play. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. We're the underdog, and we have absolutely nothing to lose."
Andresen, who improved to 7-1 overall with a 1.58 ERA, will be on the hill again Tuesday. With the normal four days rest, Zweifel said Andresen should be ready.
"Colton is a warrior out there," Zweifel said. "He wants the ball in big situations. There's some college team that will be pretty lucky to have him next year. He lives and breathes baseball. He's always going to be ready. If we play defense behind him, it's going to be a fun day on Tuesday."