Jun. 25—It wasn’t the ideal way to enter the playoffs.
Hoping to ride into the postseason with a bit of momentum, the Eau Claire Memorial baseball team instead trudged into the playoffs with a pair of defeats at the hands of Chippewa Falls.
The Old Abes fell to the Cardinals 3-1 and 8-4 to close out the regular season two weeks ago. In dropping the series, Memorial struggled to manufacture consistent offense and made uncharacteristic mistakes defensively.
The letdown could have leaked into postseason play. But the Old Abes made it a point to not let that happen.
“I think our attitude has changed,” Memorial senior Vincent Trapani said as he soaked in the highs of a sectional championship celebration on Monday. “This whole season, we’ve known that we can get here. Those two games (against Chippewa Falls) were tough and we weren’t our best. But ultimately, we just kind of banded together and started relying on each other.”
“And I think our energy, more than anything, has really changed,” junior Dylan O’Connell added. “Lately it’s been a lot higher than it was for those two Chippewa games.”
It has paid off in a big way. The Old Abes are headed to the Division 1 state quarterfinals, where they’ll play Union Grove at 4:30 p.m. on Friday at Herr-Baker Field in Fond du Lac.
The team’s bats catching fire has been another key to righting the ship in the playoffs. In four postseason games, Memorial has scored eight runs or more every time.
“It’s no secret that the team that gets hot at the right time is the team that’s going to go a long way,” Memorial coach Dan Roehl said Monday. “Everything has come together for us. Our pitching has kind of been a constant for us all year, and our bats just got going these last couple of weeks.”
It’s all meshed at the perfect time. The pitchers have held opponents to an average of 2.5 runs per game in the playoffs, which has been more than enough considering the offense.
It’s right where the Old Abes want to be, especially after the rough finish to the regular season.
“We’ve had our peaks and valleys, but these guys have just battled,” Roehl said. “They trusted each other. They really prepared hard every day. They have great chemistry, and I’m just really proud of the guys.”
The other guys
Memorial is seeded sixth of the remaining eight teams in the Division 1 field, and faces third-seeded Union Grove for a spot in the state semis.
It’ll likely be the toughest test of the season yet for the Old Abes. The Broncos are 25-3 this season and boast one of the top offenses in the state. Five of the team’s everyday starters finished the regular season batting above .400 and the team collectively hit 14 home runs.
O’Connell will start against the Broncos after he kept his pitch count low in Monday’s sectional final against D.C. Everest. Roehl said Trapani, the team’s ace, will be unavailable to pitch.
O’Connell has proved to be an ace in his own right. The right-hander sports a 6-1 record and 1.95 ERA entering the state tournament.
“We’re really looking forward to Friday,” Roehl said. “We think we have a staff that’s kind of built for this postseason, so we’re really looking forward to the next step.”
Good luck charm
Anyone who has attended a Memorial game in the last few weeks has likely seen the Old Abes employ an unusual prop for inspiration.
The team has a homemade trident that has evolved from a couple of wood bats and wrapping paper to a fully-fledged, golden duct tape-covered spear measuring several feet in length. It has featured in all of the team’s celebrations since its inception.
The state tournament is usually played at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute, the home of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. It still will be this year, with the exception of the Division 1 quarterfinals.
Those games will be played at the home of the Northwoods League’s Fond du Lac Dock Spiders on Friday, and the semifinals and championship will take place next Thursday at Fox Cities Stadium.
This year has been rife with change. Not only is the state tournament taking place later in the year than usual, but it’s the first time the field is seeded.