Two hours at Fox Cities Stadium on Wednesday was more than enough time to convince Bill Urban that Lake Country Lutheran is not only the best baseball team in Division 4, but one of the top squads in the state.
“I would say they would be pretty competitive in the D2, D3 range right now,” the Pittsville baseball coach said after the Lightning rolled to a 13-2 win over his team in a Division 4 state semifinal game which started five hours late due to a rain delay. “Usually in D4 you see a good team that can hit 1 through 5 or 1 through 6 (in the order). These guys could all hit the ball 1 through 9. They lived up to their billing.”
The Lightning (31-0) scored 11 runs over the third through sixth innings to pull away from the Panthers (21-5), who were making their third state appearance since 2006 and second in the past three years. Lake Country put up gaudy numbers this season, outscoring its opponents 414-30 coming into the state tournament.
Against Pittsville, the Lightning had 12 hits, stole seven bases and had a runner in scoring position all six innings. It was the 20th time this season that the Lightning have won a game stopped short of seven innings because of the 10-run rule. Lake Country Lutheran came into the game successful on 97 of 100 steal attempts this year.
“We tried holding them on and threw over (to first) a couple times and had pitchouts. We knew we were going to struggle if they got on, especially their leadoff hitters,” Urban said. “They were fast, a lot of them were, and they are a very athletic team. They had seven stolen bases today along with their hitting. They put a lot of pressure on us.”
The Lightning — who fell to Greenwood in the title game last season — face McDonell Central for the state championship at 9 a.m. today.
BJ Sabol earned the complete-game win for the Lightning as the left-hander allowed three hits and struck out eight. Pittsville shortstop Aron Masanz broke up Sabol’s shutout bid with a two-run double in the fourth inning.
“Every first pitch he threw me was right down the middle (of the plate),” Masanz said. “So (in the fourth) I knew it was coming right away, so I drove it right back up the middle.”
Paul Downs was the first of three pitchers the Panthers used to try to slow down a Lightning squad that came in with a team batting average of .440 and a slugging percentage of .604. Downs faced 18 batters and allowed four earned runs before being relieved by Nathan Dupee in the fourth.
“They’re just a great hitting team,” Downs said. “Obviously they’re a fastball-hitting team, but they can hit everything. I battled them for a few innings, but then they got the best of me. I’ll give them that.”
Dupee allowed six earned runs in 22⁄3 innings before Adam Sturgis came in and recorded the final out of the sixth inning on his first pitch.
“Obviously it’s a huge adrenaline rush when you’re on the mound at state, and I was bringing everything I had,” Dupee said. “High, low, inside or outside they could hit everything, and I couldn’t get it around them.”
The loss snapped a seven-game winning streak for a Panthers team that Urban said far exceeded preseason expectations. The last three games in the streak were all decided by one run.
“I thought at the beginning of the season that if we had 14 or 15 wins I would be very pleased with it. We ended up 21-5,” Urban said. “We put it together and went on a little run winning three one-run games just to get to state. I told the kids after the game that it hurts right now, but after they look back at it, I feel this was a very overachieving group that really got the most out of their potential.”
WP-BJ Sabol. LP-Paul Downs. 2B-LCL, Chris Kornowski, CJ Teske, Murphy Shannon; P, Aron Masanz. LOB-LCL 7. Pit 5.
Records: Lake Country Lutheran 31-0, Pittsville 21-5