At this point in the season, there is no real advantage. Four teams remain, and the winner will be determined by which team pitches the best and plays the best defense.
The Waupun baseball team squares off against Lodi tonight at approximately 8:30 p.m. in the Division 2 state tournament semifinal game played at the Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton. And with the way the Warriors have been playing, they have to like their chances.
“At this point, four teams teams left, all of the teams are really talented,” senior Jared Larsen said at practice Sunday. “It’s going to come down to who can play better defense. We know our pitchers will do their jobs so the defense has to do their’s.”
The Warriors (23-6) will face a Blue Devils team that sits 20-3, including a 10-0 mark in the Capitol North Conference. Lodi recently defeated Wisconsin Dells 6-3 in the sectional final to advance to its first state trip since 1982. For the Warriors, it’s their first since 2008. They won it all in 2007.
Lodi’s three losses have come to Cambridge, Evansville and McFarland, but the Blue Devils have also twice-defeated Watertown Luther Prep — a solid program that made the state trip in 2004. The Warriors defeated Luther Prep in the regional final game 11-5, scoring 10 runs in the bottom of the sixth to come back to win.
Warriors co-coach Derrick Standke believes his team has a slight advantage because of the schedule it has played, which included facing off against many Division 1 teams. Five of the Warriors six losses have come to Division 1 teams, including Little Ten Conference champion Oconomowoc twice.
“(Lodi) plays some quality teams, but I’m not sure if they play Division 1 teams like we do,” Standke said. “They do have two very good pitchers, though, and a few good hitters that we’ve actually seen in the fall league here. It’s the state tournament. They are going to lay it out on the line.”
Lodi is carried by its top two pitchers — cousins Donnie and Fred Manke. Donnie posts an 8-0 record with a 0.84 ERA, while Fred posts a 6-0 record with a 0.37 ERA.
“It should be a close game. They have those two good pitchers that will keep them in the game and it will be low-scoring,” Waupun senior Colin DeBoer said. “We have played a couple of their kids since we were little and it has always been close competition.”
One of those two aces will most likely go against the Warriors’ juniors Arik Tavs or Bryce Buchholz. Arik Tavs struggled in his last outing in the sectional semifinal against Waupaca, while Buchholz is coming off a complete-game shutout against Race St. Catherine’s in the sectional final.
With top pitchers on the mound, it’ll simply come down to the defense, which the Waupun feels like is its advantage right now. In the last four games, the Warriors haven’t committed an error.
“The team that makes the least amount of errors and can hit the ball is going to win,” senior Jordan Daane said.
“We have to keep that good defense going, and hopefully playing on that really nice field is pretty close to playing on this turf,” DeBoer added.
While most expect it to be a pitcher’s dual — don’t overlook each team’s offensive ability.
Lodi’s Fred Manke also leads the team offensively with an astonishing .616 batting average and has recorded 45 hits on the season — 17 more than the next guy. It also have some power in Matt Byars, who has homered three times this season and has driven in 21 runs.
For Waupun, DeBoer leads the way with a .438 batting average, while Daane follows with a .424. Daane also leads the team in home runs with three, in doubles with 13 and is second on the team in RBIs with 32. Bryce Buchholz leads that category with 33.
The Warriors have practiced at night every night so far this week so they can get the feeling of what it’ll be like playing under the lights tonight, and to see what it’s like to build up energy and anticipation.
“It’s to get us with the right light-setting with the game, and to get the right feel of the day mentality about how late we’ll be up there,” DeBoer said. “We need to keep our energy up.”
Most of the players admitted they are feeling mixed emotions as the long day awaits them.
“I’m pretty excited and nervous but I think everybody is,” Daane said.
“I’m nervous because I don’t want it to be my last game of high school, but I’m also excited to hopefully go out on a bang for coach DeBoer’s last year,” Colin said about his dad Kevin, who is in his last year leading the squad.
Division 2’s game one matchup consists of Ellsworth (16-3) and Notre Dame (13-10), which starts at 6 p.m. The Waupun/Lodi game will follow shortly after.