Nine seniors saw their careers end in Huntingburg, and seven are pictured. Top (L-R): Coach Jeff Block, Jake Ristow, Ryan Pelky, Jim Stefanich, Coach Jeff Booth. Bottom (L-R) Mikey Davis, Cullen Buchanan, Jake McHenry, Phillip Kilgas. Not pictured: Bradley Johnson, Andy Sentkowski. Photo credit: Gary Kilgas
HUNTINGBURG, IN. - How often do you see tightrope walkers fail? When their routines are televised live, they almost always seem to go off without a hitch. These yahoos risk their lives to put on a show, but they are doing something that they have presumably done several times before under similar circumstances. There are times that things fall apart, and when they do, it’s a spectacular failure for everyone involved.
The UW Club Baseball Team hoped their trip to the Great Lakes Regional would be like this. On Sunday, the Badgers faced off against Illinois in the Great Lakes Regional Championship Game and this happened (skip to the last 15 seconds).
Audiences that watch tightrope walkers and other daredevils are split into two camps: the Andy Bernard (goodbye, The Office) camp for those that are genuinely interested in what’s going on and hope for everyone to end up happy, and the first-aid camp (this group also watches NASCAR because they like seeing the crashes.) As my father and I arrived at the field on Sunday morning, our hearts were wholly in the Andy Bernard camp, but our brains told us to arrive and deploy our safety nets immediately. The team had wobbled the day before, and although they managed to steady themselves time and again, it was apparent that exhaustion had set in by the time the end came into sight. Illinois was the final gust of wind that toppled the Badgers off the rope for good.
Here are some numbers that illustrate the adventure the Wisconsin Club Baseball Team went through in Huntingburg, Indiana:
7.5……hours of driving to get to the site of the Great Lakes Regional Tournament.
5……..hours of sleep that several starters had before playing their first game because they had to study for final exams.
18……hours at the field on Saturday.
24……innings played on that day, or 2 and 2/3 games.
12:30…the time (technically on Sunday morning) that the last game on Saturday ended.
8………the time that Wisconsin showed up at the field on Sunday morning to play for the right to go to the NCBA World Series.
5……..the number of pitchers Wisconsin used just to get to the championship round – not including senior ace Bradley Johnson, who was unable to make the trip due to his final exam schedule.
3……..the number of pitchers that Illinois used before the championship round.
Whooptydoo…what does it all mean, Basil?
Well, Austin, it means that Wisconsin had effectively drank all day, went out to the bars, danced its face off, found a girl, brought her home, poured a few last shots of Fleischmann’s, made it to the couch… and passed out before the moment of truth. There was no lack of effort or preparation; a physical breakdown seemed inevitable due to the circumstances that Wisconsin had faced all weekend.
UW did its best to take the upper hand on Sunday, as the Badgers jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Phillip Kilgas walked to lead off the game and stole second base. Sam Hartwick then singled to move Kilgas to third and put runners on the corners with no outs. Wisconsin still had some fight left. However, after Illinois turned a double play, you could almost see several days’ worth of frustration and sleep deprivation spill out of the Wisconsin dugout. Jake Ristow singled with two outs to score Kilgas, but Parker Sear popped up to first base to end the inning. As Illinois came up to bat, it was evident that the Badgers were in a very fragile state.
Junior Nick Meyer took the mound for the UW Club Team and allowed a single to the first batter he faced. Immediately it seemed like if anything so much as breathed on Wisconsin’s defense, the Badgers would topple off the tightrope that had been their home for the weekend. Sure enough, a walk and a hit batter loaded the bases for Illinois with no one out. The boys from Madison were hanging on the tightrope and trying desperately to climb up one last time. Illinois had watched from afar as Wisconsin made its way along the tightrope on Saturday, and the Fighting Illini had no intention of letting UW get back up onto the tightrope. A two-run single from the cleanup hitter pushed Illinois in front, and from there Wisconsin’s fingers slipped off the tightrope one at a time.
Seconds after the Fighting Illini’s fifth batter stepped up to the plate, the runner on second broke for third. Jake McHenry’s throw sailed high; the runner scored and the man behind him moved to third. A pinkie finger slipped off the rope. The batter eventually grounded out to shortstop, but another run scored. There went the ring finger. Fingers kept losing their grip throughout the game, and the end result saw the UW Club Baseball team take a 13-2 loss at the hands of Illinois (and their sweet uniforms) at Huntingburg, IN.
UW scored a run in the top of the second to close the deficit to 4-2 on an RBI double by Sheridan Skala. Both he and Ristow were bright spots for Wisconsin, as each finished 2-for-3 at the plate. Phillip Kilgas stole two bases and also had a base hit to ensure that he closed the season with a hit in every game (17 games). Overall, seven of the nine starters for Wisconsin had a hit, but they were too spread out to seriously threaten the Fighting Illini. Illinois’ pitcher allowed two runs over seven innings. He struck out three, walked one and surrendered nine hits.
Wisconsin finished the 2013 season with a 12-5 record. The Badgers were ranked #21 in the final NCBA poll, which was a small amount of solace for head coach Jeff Block. He told me after the team posed for photos that this team wasn’t a group that was going to crush anyone – that they weren’t a really talented team, but they were so resourceful and relentless that they were able to do some pretty special things. He also noted that the championship game loss was the furthest Wisconsin had advanced in the postseason since 2007.
The team said goodbye to nine seniors after the game: SS Cullen Buchanan, P Mikey Davis, P Bradley Johnson, CF Phillip Kilgas, C Jake Ristow, P Ryan Pelky, 3B Jake Ristow, C Andy Sentkowski, and 1B Jim Stefanich.
Illinois earned the #2 national ranking leading into the NCBA World Series, but lost both games in Tampa (14-6 to Western Washington, and 5-3 to Iowa). #4 Penn State captured the national title with a 12-5 victory over #6 James Madison.
University of Wisconsin Club Baseball
2B: S. Skala
RBI: J. Ristow, S. Skala
ROE: J. Ristow
FC: C. Buchanan
GIDP: C. Buchanan
SB: P. Kilgas 2
E: J. McHenry 2, J. Stefanich
2B: Castillo, Muncy
RBI: Kujawa 2, Ashcraft 2, Muncy, Walsh 2, Geissler, Oska, Diamond 2
FC: Muncy, Oska
SB: Kujawa, Ashcraft, Oska 2, Diamond