A fast offensive start lifted the Two Rivers baseball team to a 6-1 win over Cedar Grove-Belgium in a WIAA summer baseball regional final Friday night.
In recent years, the Raiders have shown a knack for peaking when the postseason comes calling. This year’s tournament marks the second consecutive year that Two Rivers has captured a regional title despite being under .500 during the regular season.
It’s better late than never as far as Two Rivers head coach Bo Perkins sees it.
“The guys have confidence now. Even if we’re not hitting the ball, they’re really confident in our defense right now,” Perkins said. “We’ve pretty much been playing error-free the last two games. This is what I hoped we’d be doing earlier in the season.”
Starting pitcher Brett Linzmeier helped his own cause with an RBI single in the top of the first, giving the Raiders the early edge.
The Rockets found a quick answer in the form of Brandon O’Neil and brought the score back to even in the home half of the frame with a run-scoring double.
But Two Rivers’ offense continued to click with two more runs in the top of the second.
After surrendering a leadoff walk to open up the second, Linzmeier was lifted in favor of Brett Kasper. Perkins knew that he would have to call upon his bullpen eventually, given that Linzmeier had tossed five innings in the Raiders’ regional semifinal win over Sheboygan Area Lutheran/Kohler Tuesday.
“He was a little bit sore, but we were hoping we could get though their order one time at least, or maybe get two or three innings out of him and then put Brett in,” Perkins said. “He was on a short leash. He knew that. The team knew that.”
After walking the first man he faced, Kasper received some help from his defense. With two and no outs, center fielder Cameron Greene flashed the leather with a diving grab in left-center. Greene was able to throw out a runner at second base to convert a double play that changed the landscape of the inning.
“Coach always tells us to take chances early in the game, and that’s exactly what I did,” Greene said “It happened so fast. I didn’t really know what to do. I heard my teammates yelling ‘two,’ so that really helped.”
A double off the bat of Brennan Willert in the third inning gave Two Rivers a 4-1 lead.
The early momentum proved to be crucial.
“Our team is the type of team that needs to be up, not that we can’t come back if we need to, but we play much better from ahead. As long as we aren’t giving up a big inning, our guys are oozing with confidence.”
Kasper began to find his groove on the mound and keep the Rockets off the scoreboard. In six innings of scoreless work, Kasper allowed just four hits while racking up five strikeouts and only issuing one walk.
The Raiders plated a pair of insurance runs in the sixth which helped put the victory on ice.
Two Rivers now turns its attention to the sectional semifinal Monday where it runs into Sheboygan Falls. The Falcons took all three meetings from the Raiders during the regular season.
With their confidence on the rise, the Raiders may be a tough out at sectionals.
“We just have to keep playing hard and know that we can stay in the game,” Greene said. “We just have to focus on the games and get prepared, that’s all we can do.”