There was a buzz among members of the Union Grove High School baseball team early Wednesday afternoon as they awaited the arrival of their charter bus for Grand Chute.
There was only one problem: The bus never showed up.
“We were all standing around for the bus for about an hour and then realized it wasn’t coming,” senior pitcher Jake Zimmermann said.
With their WIAA Division 2 semifinal against McFarland at Fox Cities Stadium scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday, it was time to think quickly and improvise.
Head coach Nate Meyer called his wife, Trisha, and asked for her mini van. Junior varsity coach Ryan Maier hitched a trailer to his truck to transport the team’s equipment. Assistant coaches Ben Miller and Ryan Storm also volunteered their cars to transport players.
And then the Broncos made the trip to Grand Chute in a caravan of four vehicles during a downpour that rarely relented during their 125-mile trip.
But things got worse still. Not long after the team checked into its hotel, it learned that its semifinal has been moved to 8 a.m. Thursday because of the rain.
The Broncos will play at Nienhaus Field, 551 N. Outagamie Court in Appleton, about five miles south of Fox Cities Stadium. If they defeat McFarland on Thursday morning, they will play either West De Pere or Antigo for the Division 2 championship later Thursday at Fox Cities Stadium.
The title game is expected to start around 4:30 p.m.
Union Grove is making its second state tournament appearance 67 years after the first. They couldn’t have realized the long-awaited return to high school baseball’s promised land would be this crazy.
“We were kind of bummed that we didn’t get to ride on the coach bus, but at the same time, it’s no big deal — we’re here now,” senior catcher Jack Clark said. “We’re going to get to go swimming and relax a little more than we originally were going to. So that’s a plus for us.
“We’re super excited to play. Again, we’re kind of bummed we didn’t get to play (Wednesday) because we were all pumped to play under the lights and everything, but I’m sure we’ll be just as excited to play (Thursday) morning.”
That will entail an early rise Thursday morning, but the Broncos plan to be ready for the first state tournament game since June 6, 1952, when the program lost to Menasha 12-0 in the first round.
“Waking up at 6 or 6:30, that’s not going to be great, especially if we don’t get the amount of sleep we want,” Zimmermann said. “But it’s also good because of the fact that we can keep the adrenaline going playing two games in a row.
“If we win the first game, we’ll have more adrenaline going for the second game.”
Meanwhile, Meyer said he is still undecided who will pitch against McFarland in the semifinal. His choices are Luke Hansel (7-0, 1.02 ERA) or Zimmermann (8-0, 0.55 ERA). He said he may not decide until consulting with his coaches early Thursday morning.
After receiving some unexpected relaxation Wednesday night, it will be time to get down to business early Thursday.
“They’re bummed, but we’re just going to make the best of what we got going,” Meyer said.