From the cozy, ivy-covered fences of West Bend, to the storm-spattered beauty of Stevens Point to the still very recent state-of-the-art glory that is Kapco Park in Mequon, the 50 years of WIAA summer baseball have seen it all.
This version of the sport, unfortunately, is on the wane, as it dropped in participation from its peak of 110 schools in 1999 (a very dominant West Bend East team was the champ then) to about half that number right now.
The power of spring ball, uncertainty due to the influence of traveling teams and the relentless pressure of Legion ball in the summer throughout the more rural portions of the state have made its future a tenuous one at best (see related article), but for as long as it has been around, it has been a marvelous and instense showcase for CNI/NOW area teams and talent.
Oak Creek and Brookfield Central have four state titles apiece, while Brown Deer, Greendale and Homestead have three apiece and Franklin and Nicolet two each.
Other area programs to have won state crowns include Sussex Hamilton (1981), Greenfield (1983), Whitnall (1991), South Milwaukee (1996), Wauwatosa East (1997) and New Berlin West (2013). Menomonee Falls teams have had the unique distinction of falling in four finals (as old Falls high school 1968, Falls North in 1977 and as new Falls high school in 2001 and 2004).
Through it all, the moments have been distinct and strong for area teams, from Homestead's Randy Rennicke throwing a no-hitter in the 1974 state finals against New Holstein (he was coached by his father, Don), to future major leaguer Lance Painter of Nicolet throwing an 18-strikeout perfect game against Amery en route to the Knights' first title in 1985.
You had Germantown's tenacity in winning the longest game ever, a 14-inning quarterfinal decision over Onalaska that was decided at 1 a.m. in 1986 at old Regner. Paul Frey pitched 10 brave innings for the Warhawks that time out. Then there were the dueling last-moment home runs in the fog-drenched final of Bukolt Park in 2002 that had West Bend East dog-piling on the mound in celebration while Muskego players crouched in despair so close to the trophy they so coveted.
There were also coaches to remember.
You had Mark Rohde's "Mad Bombers" from Brookfield Central clubbing their way to a state title with power times 10 in 2000 and Dave Weber of Falls pulling out the six-man infield in a thrilling semifinal win over New Richmond in 2001.
You had great coaching legends with out-sized personalities like Frank Benevides of Greenfield, Tom "Whitey" Grafenauer of Whitnall, Jerry Toubl of Wauwatosa East, John Galewski of South Milwaukee and Dick Sykes of Nicolet all seizing their one chance at glory. Sykes' Nicolet squad had to win three road games for a regional title, including a 1-0 "rat-tail" victory over Brown Deer just to get into the full bracket.
Two weeks before that game, Sykes had threatened to demote the entire varsity after a disturbing loss to Germantown.
Record-setting coach of great character Jim Hughes of Franklin finally getting back-to-back titles in 2010-11 was a perfect way to close out the summer tourney's time in Point.
Yup, this is one fun tournament, despite the rain, the storms and the fact that it was too long in Stevens Point (1989-2011) where hardly anyone saw many of these great moments. So, here to catch you up on things is my short list of my "Best Of" CNI/NOW summer state baseball tournament (disagree if you must):
TEAMS: Brookfield Central 2000 (way too many offensive weapons for anyone to check); Oak Creek 2004 (three complete-game pitching efforts plus three total runs allowed equals state title); Homestead 1974 (Randy Rennicke and pitching to burn), Franklin 2010-11 (character-driven over-achievers led by a legendary coach).
COACHES: Robin Schrank of Greendale (state titles 1980, 1987 and 1995; runner-up in 1985); Don Rennicke (runner-up with Brown Deer in 1965, titles with Homestead 1974 and 1978); Earl Gengler of Brown Deer (titles in 1975 and 1977, runner-up in 1982); Hughes of Franklin (three games in one day runner-up in 2000, titles in 2010 and 2011); and Peter Dooley and Scott Holler of Oak Creek (two titles each, 2003 and 2004, and 2005 and 2012, respectively).
PLAYERS: Painter of Nicolet 1985 (single greatest state pitching effort, no argument); Butler of Oak Creek 2003-2005 (stymied a great Homestead team in state finals as a freshman, also contributed to 2004 and 2005 crowns); Justin Schweikert of Brookfield Central 2000 (teammate Shane Davis was Player of the Year in the state, but Schweikert knocked in a record nine runs in state tourney); Jake Penegor of Franklin 2011 (six runs scored, eight hits and four RBIs in three-game title run); and Mike Mushall of Brown Deer 1982 (had a record nine hits in three-game state runner-up effort).
GAMES: Germantown 4-3 over Onalaska in 1986 (14 innings, longest game in tourney history and all worth it); Menomonee Falls 7-6 over New Richmond in 2001 (11-inning game with Falls' rally-thwarting six-man infield); West Bend East 7-6 over Muskego 2002 (nine-inning effort with walk-off home run into the fog); Oak Creek 3-2 over Homestead 2003 (Butler forecasting future greatness by no-hitting Highlander coach Ernie Millard's best team over the course of the first five innings of title game).
None of this is all-inclusive and is just the tip of the iceberg of the excellence that has marked what will hopefully continue to be one of the great annual events in high school sports. We'd all do well to support it in the future.
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