By Matt Blakeley’s own admission, not too many people could have seen this coming.
Blakeley’s St. Catherine’s High School baseball team, which entered the postseason with a 9-16 record, is advancing to the WIAA State Tournament. The Angels earned that opportunity Tuesday by defeating Markesan 2-1 and Gibraltar/Washington Island 3-2 in the Division 3 sectionals at Ripon College in Ripon.
They open tournament play June 18 against Oconto (16-6) in a state semifinal at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute. Oconto has shut out its last three opponents in the postseason.
How much were the odds stacked against St. Catherine’s? Consider that seven players who earned All-Racine County recognition, including the last two county players of the year, graduated from last season’s 19-3 team. And the Angels’ ace pitcher, Derek Heffel, has been limited by arm issues this season.
But the Angels somehow pulled it off with several players stepping up.
“I guess three weeks ago, you probably would have looked at our team and said, ‘No way,’ ” said Blakeley, the Angels’ first-year coach. “But the guys are settling into their positions — we had to move some guys around after some injuries midway through the year — and the guys are starting play some pretty good baseball.”
Caleb Gillis, K.J. Banse and Heffel were crucial against Gibraltar/Washington Island in the sectional championship.
Banse replaced Matthew Feldmann, who pitched two innings after working five innings against Markesan, to pitch four innings of three-hit relief. After walking three in the third inning, Banse settled down to walk just one more.
You have free articles remaining.
Heffel came on in the seventh inning to earn his second save of the day by striking out two.
And then there was Gillis, a senior center fielder, who overcame two strikeouts against Markesan’s Casey Ryan in the first game to have a huge performance. Gillis went 3 for 3 with two RBIs and also stole a base.
With Danny Welsh on second and Heffel on first with two outs in the top of the third inning, Jimmy Carrington hit a lazy slicing ball down the right-field line that scored Welsh. Gillis followed with a line drive up the middle to score Heffel and Carrington.
“He was feeling down after the first game, but he had a short memory and those are the kinds of guys you want up there,” Blakeley said.
The Angels were led in the first game by catcher Josh Milder, who went 3 for 3 and drove in what proved to be the winning run in the top of the sixth inning.
Carrington singled with two outs and stole second, and Milder followed with a shot down the right-field line. Milder also had a two-out RBI in the first inning.
Feldmann (5-4) allowed three hits in five innings.
Heffel pitched the last two innings and struck out four.