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Somerset baseball team stopped one step from state tournament

Somerset’s Zac Waalen (center) leaps to plant his feet firmly on home plate after he homered in the third inning of the sectional championship game, giving the Spartans a 2-1 lead. 1 / 5
Somerset senior Aaron Moore slid between the legs of the Viroqua catcher to score on this play, after the Viroqua shortstop made an error and didn’t react quickly to retrieve the ball. 2 / 5
Junior Tyler Lueck was the winning pitcher in Somerset's sectional semifinal win over Hayward, hurling six shutout innings.3 / 5
The dust-covered uniform of senior Andy Peters shows how hard he plays the game. He pitched in relief for the Spartans in both of the sectional games. 4 / 5
Somerset sophomore Logan Peterson got down this successful sacrifice bunt during the Spartans' win over Hayward in the sectional tournament.5 / 5

The incredible charge made over the final weeks of the season by the Somerset baseball team ended one game from its desired destination.

The Spartans reached the WIAA Division 2 sectional championship game last Tuesday, but their run of prosperity ran out as they lost to Viroqua 10-6 at Cinder City Park in Altoona.

Somerset finished the season with a 15-8 record. The Spartans had gone 6-1 in their previous seven games before the loss to Viroqua.

The Spartans reached the sectional championship game by winning the first game of the day at Altoona. They topped Hayward 2-0 in the sectional semifinal game. Viroqua took out Middle Border Conference co-champion Ellsworth in the other sectional semifinal game, also by a 2-0 score.

There were plenty of ups and downs for the Spartans in the title game. Both teams looked jittery in the first two innings. The Spartans had two misplays in the outfield in the second inning that led to a Viroqua run. In the top of the third inning, the Spartans had a chance to build a big cushion.

Jon Sullivan led off the inning with a walk. Two batters later, starting pitcher Zac Waalen helped his cause by ripping a two-run homer over the leftfield fence. The Spartans stayed on the attack. Aaron Moore singled to center and moved to second base on an error. Andy Peters then reached on an error by the Viroqua shortstop. When the shortstop failed to quickly retrieve the ball, Moore took off for home. He slid in safely between the legs of the Viroqua catcher. The Spartans still had two runners on base, but the next two batters struck out. The Spartans led 3-1, but they missed their chance to break the game open.

Viroqua took full advantage of its chance in the bottom of the third. The Spartans weren’t seeing eye-to-eye with the home plate umpire throughout the game and it came to a head during this rally. Viroqua scored one run and had the bases loaded, when the game’s pivotal play occurred. Viroqua’s Tyler Bentz hit a chopper back to Waalen. Waalen fired home to get the forceout, then Sullivan, the Spartan catcher, fired to first base to try getting the double play. Instead of the double play, the Spartans didn’t get either out.

The home plate umpire ruled that Sullivan’s foot wasn’t on the plate. Despite protests from the Spartan crowd, the umpire stood by his call.

“I thought he was out,” said Somerset coach John Ball, who had several non-biased coaches and administrators tell him after the game that it looked like Sullivan had his foot on the plate. “It really changed the whole game.”

The Spartans came unglued. They didn’t get outs on the next two batters on plays that should have been routine. By the time the Spartans could get out of the inning, their 3-1 lead had turned into a 6-3 deficit.

It took some time for the shock to wear off. The Spartans got one run in the fifth inning on more fearless baserunning from Moore. They scored twice in the sixth on hits from Sullivan, Waalen and Moore, but they couldn’t come all the way back.

Moore finished the game with three hits and Waalen had three RBI on a homer and a double.

The Spartans struck out 10 times in the opener. Five of those were on called third strikes on pitches that the Spartans argued were well outside the strike zone.

The win in the first game on Tuesday wasn’t a case of the Spartans overwhelming Hayward. But when the pressure was on, it was Somerset that produced and Hayward that couldn’t.

Tyler Lueck pitched the first six innings of the opener, running his playoff shutout inning streak to 13. He allowed five hits, but walked four batters as he walked a tightrope in and out of troubling situations. Hayward had runners in scoring position in four of Lueck’s six innings. In the fourth inning, Hayward loaded the bases on a hit and two walks. Spartan pitching coach Mike Tetzlaff went to the mound to calm Lueck down. His words worked, because Lueck struck out the next two batters and got the third to fly out to rightfield.

There was another tight spot in the fifth inning the Spartans found a way to escape. Hayward got runners on the corners with one out. The Hurricanes tried a delayed double steal, having the runner leave from first base in order to draw a throw. The Spartans made the throw to first, then quickly threw the ball home. They caught the lead runner in a rundown, getting the tag as he tried diving back to third base.

The game was scoreless until the fourth inning. Moore led off with a single up the middle and he quickly stole second base. Logan Peterson’s bunt moved Moore to third. The Hayward pitcher then made a rare mistake, unleashing a wild pitch that allowed Moore to score.

The score remained 1-0 until the top of the seventh. Peterson and Peters led off the inning with singles and Cody Cunningham’s walk loaded the bases. Tommy Grygienc then delivered an infield single to score Peters.

The Spartans started the season with very few sure things. Ball said the pitching staff of Waalen, Lueck and Peters was one of the few things in place as the season began.

“To the kids’ credit, they worked their tails off to get where they were,” Ball said.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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