No one had to remind Austin Schulfer how his first experience on the WIAA state tournament stage at Fox Cities Stadium went.
A sophomore for Stevens Point Area Senior High last season, Schulfer got the starting nod in the state quarterfinals against Oconomowoc, and let’s just say the outing didn’t follow the Hollywood script.
Unless we’re talking a horror movie. He lasted 1 1⁄3 innings and was charged with all four runs on six hits in a game SPASH would rally to win 6-4.
Schulfer had a chance to make amends Tuesday, and boy did he ever, picking up a save in a 4-2 quarterfinal win over Kenosha Bradford on Time Warner Cable Field.
Then he came back later that night and put on a performance for the ages in the semis, limiting top-ranked Bay Port to three hits with 12 strikeouts over six innings in a 14-5 blowout to help the Panthers reach the state title game for the first time since 1989.
“Redemption is the one word that comes to mind,” said Schulfer, who was all smiles. “It was pretty nice to be able to that and it feels great.”
Things started a little shaky for Schulfer, who issued a pair of walks that played a big part in the Pirates loading the bases.
When Joey Baier’s seeing eye fly ball somehow found some grass in shallow right field for a two-run single, the hurler suddenly found himself in an early 2-1 hole against a team that had won 23 straight games.
He could easily have felt sorry for himself, and taken a here-we-go-again approach. But this edition of Schulfer was nothing like the one that took the mound at Fox Cities Stadium nearly 365 days earlier.
“I think it shows his maturity and growth as a pitcher and a young man,” SPASH coach Kraig Terpstra said. “He pitches now, he doesn’t just try to throw the ball by people. He’s not relying on his million dollar arm, Austin’s letting his defense work for him when he needs to.”
And there was another thing that caught his coach’s eye.
“I was talking to (assistant coach) Luke Suchon, and we talked about how the key was getting the breaking ball over for strikes,” Terpstra said. “He got them looking early in the count to get ahead, and then got them chasing, that was a big key.”
It doesn’t hurt a pitcher to see his team put eight runs on scoreboard in an innings and hand him a 9-2 lead the next time he headed to the mound for the bottom of the fourth inning.
“As a pitcher, you’ve gotta love the runs. You can go to the bullpen and throw (to stay loose), and when I got back to the dugout we were still scoring runs,” said Schulfer, who closed out the opening game with a strikeout.
“I just pounded the (strike) zone more after that. My goal was to get ahead of the hitters.”
SPASH catcher Mitch Mallek had the best seat in the building for the virtuoso outing by Schulfer, who battled through five walks to shut down the Pirates.
“His fastball was spot on, and basically everything was going and to do that against the No. 1 team in the state says a lot,” Mallek said. “It was definitely one of his best outings I’ve seen. To have 12 strikeouts means you’re fooling a lot of people.”
And don’t fool yourselves, the performance had a special meaning for Schulfer after last year.