When Lake Country Lutheran opened its doors in 1999, the school had a student body of five. Fast forward 14 years and the enrollment has grown to a robust 185.
It may be a small school, but the stage at the WIAA state baseball tournament Wednesday wasn’t too big for the Lightning.
Now the parochial school in Hartland will go after a dream large enough to be shared by every high school baseball player in Wisconsin — a state championship.
Lake Country Lutheran (24-4) faces Greenwood (15-3) Thursday at 9 a.m. in the Division 4 state baseball final at Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium.
The Lightning advanced with a 12-0 six-inning, state semifinal rout of Potosi, while Greenwood overpowered Wausaukee in five innings, 11-0.
Wednesday was a day for the smallest schools to shine in the state baseball spotlight.
Junior left-hander B.J. Sabol tossed a two-hitter for Lake Country Lutheran, with 13 strikeouts, and was backed by a 10-hit attack.
“Oh man, winning this game is probably the best moment I’ve ever experienced in baseball,” said Sabol. “I was kind of curious to see how we’d react to all this but, obviously, we reacted well.”
Even though they handled the pressure well, both Sabol and coach David Bahr admitted they were a bit wide-eyed at times.
“You certainly dream about what it would be like playing in the state tournament, then you get here and it’s way beyond what you expect,” said Bahr. “One thing about our kids, though, is that a lot of them play travel baseball over the summer and have gone to showcase tournaments and played in different states. So, they’ve been in some big games.”
Sabol added: “It was just fun being part of the state tournament. This is a phenomenal facility — just awesome. The field was absolutely perfect. Every bounce was just crisp.”
Greenwood’s play was crisp, too. It’s the second consecutive trip to the state tournament for the Indians and they took out Wausaukee early with an eight-run second inning.
“It’s just a blast getting here,” said Greenwood coach Kent Hinker. “I think being here last year really helped us. You can tell when kids are nervous and our kids sure didn’t look nervous.”
Although Wausaukee made a quick tournament exit, the Rangers appreciated the rare opportunity to compete at state. It was Wausaukee’s first state baseball tournament experience since 1999.
“It’s just great getting on a field that looks this nice,” said senior pitcher Cole Lewandowski. “It’s just a great, great facility. Just making it state is something to be proud of.”
Wausaukee might have the biggest fan following of the four Division 4 teams. The small Marinette County town has a population of around 575 and it seemed like most of Wausaukee was in the seats at Fox Cities Stadium.
“There were people from town here today that I don’t even think follow baseball,” said Rangers fan Kaylor DeLaet, who will be a junior in the fall at Wausaukee. “It was exciting. It was a surprise to a lot of people that we got here. We weren’t supposed to win sectionals.
“It was the best feeling in the world seeing the boys playing their hearts out at the state tournament. And I know they really liked it when they stepped up to the plate and could see their face on the scoreboard. That was pretty cool.”
The Rangers had outscored opponents 34-0 in the postseason before being ousted by Greenwood. But Rangers coach Paul Moser was glad his players were able to get the once-in-a-lifetime experience of playing in a state tournament.
“Our pitchers usually throw strikes and today we had trouble throwing strikes,” said Moser. “I don’t know, maybe it was the nice mound. We’re used to pitching out of a hole. But I’m happy our seniors got a chance to experience what a trip to state is like. When we left town, we left on the fire truck with people cheering us on. That was pretty special.”
— Tim Froberg: 920-993-1000, ext. 423, or firstname.lastname@example.org; On Twitter @twfroberg