Overcoming odd calls, ejections, missed opportunities and intermittent rain, the Germantown baseball team lived to fight another day, as ace Randy Finger pitched 10 strong innings and the Warhawks pulled out an 11-inning WIAA regional decision over host Cedarburg on Tuersday night.
"A great game, as good a game as I've been a part of," said Warhawks coach Jeff Wolf. "I tell you, win or lose, I couldn't be more proud. Not once when we missed an opportunity did I see them hang their heads or lose faith."
That faith and tenacity will carry the Warhawks (13-16) into a WIAA regional final at second-seeded Homestead (22-7) at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
"We won't be the favorite, but we're playing our best ball of the season right now," said Wolf.
Then he looked at the strong-armed and strong-willed Finger and joked: "Maybe if we can grow another arm on Randy, we could have him go again on Friday."
The way Finger is pitching now, you can't blame Wolf for wishing just that.
In a game that featured several fine defensive gems, the Warhawks were able to pull out the victory with the help of Bulldogs mistakes. Drake Daniels had come in to relieve Stiever for the Bulldogs in the 11th after Stiever had gone the maximum 10 innings.
Daniels had played a stellar shortstop for the Bulldogs and looked like he would get through the 11th easily after recording the first two outs, but then he lost control and walked Nick Schneider, Joey Sykora and Alex Kumbier in order.
During Kumbier's at-bat, he also uncorked two wild pitches, one of which advanced Schneider and Sykora, and the second, on ball four, that scored Schneider to maske it 3-2.
"He had done a lot to get us to this point, so you want to accentuate the positive," said veteran Bulldogs coach Jack Friess of Daniels. Daniels had three hits in the game and scored two runs.
That left it up to the Warhawks reliever Danny Knutson to save the day for Germantown.
The scheduled starter for the Homestead game, Knutson got a pop-out to short to start the Bulldogs half of the 11th, but then Cedarburg centerfielder Drew Decker, who had made several great plays to stymie Warhawks rallies, got on through a single.
Knutson looked like he was going to get out of it quietly though, striking out the next batter and then inducing Stiever to hit a nubber back to the mound.
But Knutson got a little nervous and tossed the ball over the first baseman's head. The error put runners on second and third and gave the Bulldog fans some cause for hope as the late-evening gloom started to settle in (the game lasted approximately three hours).
Knutson, however, gathered himself and got a groundout to short to end the game.
"My heart dropped a little (after the error)," said Finger, "but I had faith in Danny (Knutson)."
"It really was a good game," said Friess. "Just all kinds of plays in it."
Germantown had taken taken a 1-0 lead in the third on a Ben Eggert RBI single that scored Brady Slaasted, who had had been hit by a pitch.
The Warhawks had a chance to expand the lead in the fourth before a bizarre turn of events. Germantown catcher Sam Essmann had led-off the inning with a hit and was sacrificed over to second.
Germantown's Nick Schneider then hit a hard ground ball to short. The Bulldog player went for the out at third, but the throw was a bit high and went behind the third base bag.
Esssmann lit off for home and the throw came in. Bulldogs catcher Taylor Grimm had to scramble for the ball, and as he turned to make the tag, Essmann was right on top of him. A collision occurred, the ball was dropped and Essmann appeared safe with the Warhawks' second run of the game.
But after a bit of a delay, the home plate umpire indicated that Essmann had come in with "malacious intent" and was not only out but was also thrown out of the game.
In the bargain, Grimm picked up a nasty cut above his right eye and also had to leave the game.
Wolf was dismayed by the call.
"I strongly disagreed," he said. "Sam ran into him because Sam had no where to go. It was Sam's hip that hit him (Grimm) in the head. No, Sam is just not that kind of player (who would go out to hurt someone)."
Furthermore, Wolf thinks there may be something in the rule book that says such a ruling may also cost Essmann in Friday's game too.
Tyler Kloss then came in and played a strong defensive game the rest of the way for the Warhawks.
The Bulldogs took advantage of the momentum gained on the play and scored a run on two hits and a throwing error by Finger to tie the score in the bottom of the fourth.
The tally ended a 16-1/3 inning scoreless streak from Finger.
Germantown got the lead back in the sixth when Nick Schneider looped a long home run over the left-centerfield fence with two outs in the seventh.
"Great timing by him (for the home run) said Wolf.
But the Bulldogs tied the score again in the bottom of the frame on a single, a throwing error on a bunt and a groundout.
It went into extra innings. Eggert led off the Germantown eighth with a double but was stranded at third. Cedarburg put two on in the bottom of the ninth but after two playable foul balls dropped in, Finger finally got Stiever to line out to left to end the threat.
Another fly-out to left ended another two-on Builldogs threat in the 10th. Finger, who in a frustrating turn of events would hit into a 6-4-3 doubl eplay in the top of the 10th to end a two-on opportunity for the Warhawks, would finish with seven strikeouts and four walks.
Finger said he willed himself to go the maximum number of innings.
"The crowd really pumped me up," he said. "Towards the end, I was just chucking it up there. I was giving it all I had because this is my senior year and I wanted to get a win for my team. We needed to get that win."
Stiever finished with five strikeouts, two walks and two hit batters. Eggert led the Germantown offense with three hits.
Wolf was impressed Finger's effort.
"As good a pitching performance as we've had in that kind of situation in a long time," he said. "There was no taking him out of the game. ... It was the kind of game you hated to see anyone lose. Everyone just played their hearts out."
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