Max Sellman delivers a pitch against Michigan. The Badgers rode a five-run third inning to the win. Photo credit: Gary Kilgas
HUNTINGBURG, IN. - After losing its first game at the Great Lakes Regional Tournament, the University of Wisconsin Club Baseball Team prepared itself to walk the tightrope that led to the National Club Baseball Association (NCBA) World Series on Saturday morning. One bad inning, one missed sign, or one false step could drop the team into the abyss and end their season. The players had two hours after their loss to Bowling Green to steady themselves before they played the #3 seed Michigan (12-3 Great Lakes - North,14-4 overall), which had lost to second-seeded Illinois, 12-4.
During the down time, I went to grab a bite to eat with seniors Phillip Kilgas and Cullen Buchanan. As they ate, they expressed disappointment with the loss but seemed very relaxed about their situation. This was typical for their team; during the course of the season the Badgers were always a low-key, loose bunch. They reminded me of the 2012-2013 Wisconsin Men’s Basketball team because you could tell that the players understood the importance of winning games and wanted to succeed worse than the Barden Bellas (yes, that’s a Pitch Perfect reference), but the team was so laid back that sometimes you wondered if they knew where the gas pedal was located.
Buchanan had been here before as a freshman starter on the 2010 team that participated in the regional tournament, and Kilgas, a former scholarship player at the University of Missouri-Saint Louis, was no stranger to high-level competition. The team followed their lead.
I expressed amazement at Kilgas’ willingness to take pitches, which often led to 0-2 and 1-2 counts for the Badgers’ lead-off hitter. He summarized his approach as follows: “I could care less about having two strikes on me. For all I care, I could have two-and-a-half strikes on me to start the at-bat and I still feel like I can get a hit.” This nonchalant demeanor was surprising at first, but it summed up the entire team’s approach to playing baseball. They know that it may seem like they set the cruise control as soon as games start, but their success rate throughout the year justified their approach. After all, this team posted a sparkling 10-0 record in the fall and came into the regional on a 5-1 streak, with the team’s only loss coming in a meaningless game after the team had clinched the conference championship.
Many players turn into Yuniesky Betancourt clones with two strikes and force the issue by flailing wildly at bad pitches instead of maintaining their composure and approaching the situation with an even keel. Kilgas was the anti-Betancourt in the game against Michigan and it helped save UW’s season. He collected four straight hits after making an out in his first at-bat and helped the UW Club Baseball team take the first steps across the tightrope with a 5-1 victory over the Wolverines. He doubled in the third inning and singled in the fourth, sixth, and ninth innings despite being behind in the count 0-1, 0-1, and 1-2 in his last three at-bats, respectively.
Wisconsin never trailed after scoring five runs in the third on a first-pitch RBI double by Kilgas and three consecutive RBI singles from junior LF Nick Meyer, Buchanan, and junior 2B Sam Hartwick. Senior 1B Jim Stefanich started the onslaught with a single and finished 2-4 with a run scored.
Junior sidewinder Max Sellman (3-0, 3.15ERA in 22.2 innings) ate up innings en route to the win and ensured that the offense didn’t have to shoulder the entire load while the Badgers tiptoed along the tightrope. Sellman allowed one earned run on nine hits and seven walks while throwing 134 pitches and striking out six over nine innings of work. Buchanan, the team’s shortstop, made plays on five grounders and turned three crucial double plays - including two in the late innings - to anchor the team’s defense behind Sellman.
Michigan's lone run of the ballgame came in the second inning on a groundout. A leadoff blooper into right field that should have been a single caromed off a diving Chris Hase and out-of-bounds, which gave the hitter two extra bases and put the runner on third instead of limiting the hit to a single. The RBI groundout followed, but Sellman didn’t let the gaffe affect his Ray Allen-level of focus as he induced another groundout and a fly ball out to escape the inning.
The victory meant that the Badgers had completed one-fourth of the tightrope walk. In order to get to the halfway point and make it to Sunday’s championship round, Madison’s finest had to face the same Bowling Green State University squad that defeated them earlier that morning.
University of Wisconsin Club Baseball
2B: P. Kilgas
RBI: P. Kilgas, N. Meyer, C. Buchanan, S. Hartwick 2
SAC: N. Meyer SB: S. Hartwick CS: S. Hartwick
HBP: C. Buchanan, J. Ristow, S. Hartwick 2
E: J. Ristow DP: Buchanan, Stefanich , Hartwick 3
GIDP: Block, Gutknecht, Patterson