By PATRICK SLACK
Sobieski and Avon locked up the first two of four state tournament berths on the line for Victory League (VL) teams in a tightly contested opening weekend of the Region 8C playoffs at Pierz Legion Park, July 28 – 29.
Four of the eight games were decided by one run, with another ending with a two-run margin.
The Skis and Lakers utilized dominant pitching performances to advance through the first two rounds, combining to allow only four runs in four games.
In the first round of region action, July 28:
Sobieski 2, St. Stephen 0
West Division champion Sobieski opened the region playoffs with a 2-0 shutout victory over St. Stephen, with Tyler Jendro tossing a four-hitter for the Skis.
Jendro set down the final 10 batters he faced to conclude the game and 19 of the final 20.
Sobieski gave Jendro the lead on an RBI single by Josh Wenzel in the fourth inning and tacked on an insurance run on a base hit by Aaron Hennes that brought home Jake Kluver in the eighth.
Riley Hirsch went 3-for-4 for Sobieski and Andrew Gurbada reached base twice.
Nick Krippner limited Sobieski to two runs over eight innings for the Steves.
Avon 10, Freeport 0
The prospect of a pitchers’ duel was thwarted early as Avon jumped out to an early lead with two runs in the second and four more in the third before an injury forced the Freeport starting pitcher from the game.
Kyle Collins took the lead and ran with it, firing a five-hit shutout and striking out seven to record the win.
The Lakers added four more runs the rest of the way, winning 10-0 in seven innings to move on in the winners’ bracket.
Rick Hendrickson and Jeff Swenson each had three hits and scored twice for Avon, while Luke Manthe doubled twice and Reed Voit homered.
Swenson, Manthe, Voit and Matt Meyer all drove in two runs.
Grant Hess had a pair of hits to lead the Black Sox.
Lastrup 9, Nisswa 8
Lastrup narrowly averted its first defeat of the season with a come-from-behind, walk-off 9-8 triumph over defending state entrant Nisswa.
Nisswa grabbed a 4-0 advantage in the third inning, highlighted by a two-run longball from Jason Roepke.
Lastrup closed the gap to 4-3 in the fourth, but Nisswa widened its lead back to 6-3 on a two-run homer by Aaron Jenkins in the top of the fifth.
The Lakers responded with two runs in the bottom of the fifth, then tied the game at 6-6 on an RBI single by Brandon Lochner in the sixth.
Rick Schlieman gave Lastrup its first lead with a two-out, two-run blast in the bottom of the eighth, but this time Nisswa bounced back to tie the game on a two-run single by Roepke in the top of the ninth.
After back-to-back walks drawn by Jason Sadlovsky and Dustin Schmaltz, an attempt at a force out at second base turned into a critical, game-ending error to allow Sadlovsky to scamper home with the decisive run.
Chad Weiss earned the complete-game victory for Lastrup, fanning eight batters.
Dave Woitalla and Weiss both went 2-for-5 for Lastrup, while Dan Saehr reached base twice, scored two runs and stole two bases.
Luke Schumer had three hits and scored three runs for the Lightning.
Buckman 7, St. Mathias 3
Jeremy Monson scattered 11 hits as Buckman rallied from an early deficit to knock off North Division champion St. Mathias 7-3.
The Devils seized a 2-0 edge on a base hit by Ryan Thiesse in the fourth, but Buckman answered with three runs in the fifth on a bases-loaded walk by Joe Kahl and a two-run single by Monson.
St. Mathias knotted the score up at 3-3 in the fifth, but Buckman produced another three-run inning in the sixth on run-scoring singles by Nate Neeser and Corey Egan to seize a lead it would not relinquish.
Ben Boser, Travis Kahl and Egan collected two hits apiece to lead the Billygoats, with Boser crossing the plate three times.
Jake Francis went 4-for-5 with an RBI and a run for St. Mathias.
In the second round of region action, July 29:
Sobieski 9, Buckman 3
Sobieski carried a narrow 5-3 lead into the ninth before putting the game away with four runs in its final at-bat to defeat Buckman 9-3 and clinch a state tournament bid.
Josh Wenzel and Isaac Smieja each homered and combined to drive in seven of Sobieski’s runs.
Nate Olson added a pair of hits and Riley Hirsch scored four times.
Olson earned the win with 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, while Jendro closed the door by recording the final five outs a day after tossing a shutout.
Joe Kahl went 2-for-5 with a double and two RBIs to pace Buckman, while Peter Suska reached base three times and scored a run.
Avon 2, Lastrup 1
In the other winners’ bracket match-up, Avon topped Lastrup 2-1 to hand the Lakers their first loss of the season and earn a trip to state.
Avon got on the board first in the fourth on a leadoff solo shot by Taylor Holthaus before adding another run on a sacrifice fly by Rick Hendrickson in the seventh to make it 2-0.
Lastrup pulled back within a run on a run-scoring single by Rick Schlieman in the eighth, but left the tying run at third base before going down in order in the ninth.
Jake Eichten held Lastrup to one run over 7 2/3 innings of work for the win and Adam Harlander picked up the final four outs for the save.
Rick Schlieman went 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI for Lastrup.
St. Stephen 8, St. Mathias 7
Adam Tschumperlin homered and drove in three runs as St. Stephen held off St. Mathias 8-7 in an elimination game.
John Schumer scattered nine hits over six innings to earn the win for the Steves, while Brandon Hellmann worked the final three innings for the save.
Trent Phelps added two hits and two runs.
Brad Waytashek led St. Mathias with three hits and a pair of runs, while Jake Francis, Josh Haberman, Zach Heidmann and Blake Thiesse picked up two hits apiece.
Nisswa 6, Freeport 5
Trailing 5-4 in the eighth, Nisswa took advantage of a failed rundown to tie the score, then won the game in the bottom of the ninth on a walk-off single by Mark Germain to overcome Freeport 6-5 in an elimination game.
Germain finished 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run for the Lightning, with Aaron Jenkins adding a pair of hits and Mike Zauher hitting a double and scoring the tying run in the eighth.
Chad Hess went 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and Eric Evaslage homered for Freeport.
Sobieski is scheduled to play Avon for a spot in the region finals, Saturday, at 4 p.m. while Buckman takes on Nisswa at 1:30 p.m. and Lastrup squares off against St. Stephen at 11 a.m. in state play-in games.
The winners of the play-in games will square off at 1 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 5, with the winner of that game playing against the loser of Sobieski and Avon at 4 p.m.
The region championship will be played Saturday, Aug. 11.
All remaining games will be played in Avon.