The St. Catherine’s High School baseball team watched Oconto kick and throw the ball all around Fox Cities Stadium Wednesday in a Division 3 semifinal at the WIAA State Spring Baseball Tournament at Grand Chute.
Unfortunately for the Angels, it didn’t matter in the end.
Oconto committed five errors and the Angels took advantage of each to score runs, but the Blue Devils scored the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth inning on a two-out single and held on for a 5-4 victory over St. Catherine’s.
The Angels finish the season 13-16. Oconto (17-6), the defending Division 3 champion, will face Wisconsin Heights (22-4) in the Division 3 title game Thursday. Wisconsin Heights beat Mondovi (19-4) 3-2 in the other semifinal.
“I thought we had this one,” senior Caleb Gillis said.
Senior pitcher Derek Heffel, who entered the game in the fifth inning in relief of junior starter Matthew Feldmann, got the first two outs in the top of the eighth on a groundout and a strikeout. The next batter, Cody Zahm, walked and stole second, and Tanner Pillsbury followed by hitting a fastball to left for a solid single. Heffel admitted he wasn’t at his best in the inning.
“I probably shouldn’t have gone out to throw,” said Heffel, who has battled elbow problems all season. “My elbow was giving me problems and I couldn’t feel my release point.”
In the bottom of the eighth, after sophomore Aaron Shauer flied out to right, junior Luke Olley hit a one-out single and sophomore John Holton came in to pinch-run. After Daniel Feldmann struck out, Holton advanced to second on a wild pitch, but junior Danny Welch struck out to end the game.
“We gave the defending state champs all they could handle,” first-year St. Catherine’s coach Matt Blakeley said. “We just couldn’t come through.”
Matthew Feldmann was on early, not giving up a hit through the first 3⅓ innings and just one through four innings. Meanwhile, the Angels scored single runs in the first and second innings, both aided by Blue Devils’ errors.
In the first inning, Heffel singled to right, senior KJ Banse sacrificed him to second and senior Jimmy Carrington reached on the first of three errors by Oconto shortstop Kyle Krueger. Heffel, who advanced to third on the error, scored when Gillis reached on a throwing error by Krueger. St. Catherine’s had the bases loaded with two outs, but Olley grounded into a fielder’s choice.
In the second, junior Jack Cafferty walked and Welch tried to sacrifice, but Oconto third baseman Ricky Mataitis misplayed the bunt and both runners were safe. Heffel’s single loaded the bases and Banse followed with a sacrifice fly, but Carrington hit into a double play to end the inning.
Oconto took the lead with its big fifth inning. With two on, the first batter Heffel faced, Harry Hintz, sacrificed the runners to second and third. After a strikeout, Gabe Hintz hit a two-run bloop single to right and reached third on a throwing error by Cafferty. Brandon Bahde walked and the Blue Devils pulled off a little deception. Bahde got into a rundown between first and second and Gabe Hintz broke from third to score just ahead of the throw home. Bahde reached second and scored on pitcher Grant Frazer’s double.
In the bottom of the fifth, errors by the Blue Devils came into play again as the Angels tied the game. Banse was hit by a pitch with one out and went to third on Carrington’s single to right. Gillis, who went 0 for 4 but drove in two runs, reached on an error by Krueger and Banse scored. Carrington advanced to third on a fielder’s choice and broke for home, but the third baseman’s throw hit Carrington in the back as he scored the tying run.
The Angels threatened in the bottom of the seventh as Carrington, who reached on a fielder’s choice, went to third on a wild pitch with two outs. But senior Josh Milder struck out.
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“They tried giving it to us,” Blakeley said. “We knew we would have our hands full and we thought if we hit it right at them, it would give us a chance. We had our chances, but we couldn’t come through.”
Just getting to the state tournament was a fantastic feat, however. St. Catherine’s won four straight one-run games in the regional and sectional tournaments.
Gillis said the Angels’ 27-8 loss to Metro Classic Conference rival Kenosha St. Joseph in their final regular-season game was a spark for a strong finish, which included an 11-10 victory over St. Joseph in the regional semifinal.
“We pretty much came together (after the loss),” Gillis said. “What got us here was defense. We didn’t score many runs, but our defense kept us in it.”
Matthew Feldmann said there were those who doubted St. Catherine’s and the Angels were happy to prove them wrong.
“We didn’t have a great regular season and not a lot of people expected us to be here,” Matthew Feldmann said. “We thought we deserved to be here; it was a great experience.”
Heffel said it was a complete team effort.
“It was a helluva run,” Heffel said. “I give all my guys credit.”
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Oconto 5, St. Catherine’s 4
Oconto 000 040 01 — 5 5 5
St. Cath. 110 020 00 — 4 5 2
WP—Frazer. LP—Heffel. RBI—Banse, Gillis 2.