UW pitchers Ryan Pelky and Mikey Davis (on Pelky's right) join the Badger huddle late in the game against Bowling Green. Photo credit: Gary Kilgas
HUNTINGBURG, IN. – The tightrope that led from the losers' bracket to the championship game of the Great Lakes Regional tournament could only support one team. When they took the hill on Saturday night for the Wisconsin Club Baseball team, pitchers Mikey Davis and Ryan Pelky used a simple, yet risky approach to make sure that Wisconsin was that team.
When people think of tightrope walkers, they probably think of a costumed daredevil carrying a long pole to balance themselves as they navigate their way across the rope toward their goal. Davis and Pelky played the daredevil as they continually attacked Bowling Green's batters with hittable pitches in all areas of the strike zone. Their idea was to use their balancing pole, the Badger defense, to ease their burden. By doing this, both pitchers were able to have longer outings than usual and Wisconsin was able to continue its march along the tightrope toward the Great Lakes Regional Championship with a 10-2 win that ended early Sunday morning.
Davis made his first start of the season and had a few wobbly moments, but he utilized his defense to perfection. Only two of the 16 outs that Davis recorded came on strikeouts. Over the course of 5 1/3 innings, he threw 87 pitches and repeatedly worked out of jams by letting Bowling Green’s offense put the ball in play. The UW defense was stellar all night in its role as the balancing pole, as it turned three double plays and only committed one error in 38 chances.
Designated hitter Parker Sear, the seventh hitter in the lineup, did a phenomenal job jump-starting the offense for UW with two singles and two walks in the game. One of his walks helped the Badgers jump out to an early 2-0 lead in the top of the second. 3B Jake Ristow started the rally for UW with a single, and one out later 1B Jim Stefanich matched him with a single of his own. After Sear walked to move Ristow and Stefanich into scoring position, RF Chris Hase singled to score Ristow and Stefanich.
Although Bowling Green tied the game in the bottom of the second, Wisconsin kept its poise and took a 4-2 lead in the fourth inning on a two-run single by LF Nick Meyer. Catcher Jake McHenry drove in another run in the fifth to increase the lead to 5-2 before things got interesting.
The Badgers were beginning to wobble on the tightrope after back-to-back singles put runners on first and second with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning. At that point, Davis left the game and put the game in the hands of fifth-year senior Ryan Pelky. The move paid immediate dividends, as Pelky induced an inning-ending double play on his second pitch to correct the wobble and steady the team. From that point on, the Badgers proceeded along the tightrope with a newfound confidence; they promptly came up to bat and scored five runs to put the game away. Wisconsin used two walks, a hit batter, two errors and a run-scoring groundout by CF Phillip Kilgas to stretch the lead to 10-2. That was more than enough support for Pelky.
Just like Davis had done, Pelky utilized the defense as his balancing pole. For the final 3 2/3 innings, Bowling Green couldn't get anything going because Pelky and the Badger defense were in the zone. Pelky only struck out one of the 12 batters he faced, but he didn't allow a hit, either. Wisconsin turned another double play in the seventh inning and played flawless defense over the last two innings despite being barraged by three hard grounders, two line drives and a deep fly ball.
The victory meant that after 18 (!!!) hours at the ballpark on Saturday, UW went to sleep knowing it was ¾ done with its mission. The last quarter required the Badgers to earn two wins over Illinois on Sunday in order to complete the tightrope voyage through the losers’ bracket and advance to the NCBA World Series.