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Onalaska sweeping ranked competition

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By Clay Lilley
Sports contributor

The Onalaska Wildcats (9-4) faced the 14th ranked Anderson-Shiro Owls (11-4) Tuesday night. For the second time in as many years, the Wildcats stunned the Owls with a come-from-behind victory, 5-4.

Onalaska took an early lead in the third inning when Wyatt Reyes hit a ball off the end of his bat, allowing Conner Ruiz to score from second base, putting the Wildcats up 1-0. Anderson quickly bounced back in the fourth inning, tying the game 1-1 on an RBI-single to right field. The score remained tied until the sixth inning, when the Wildcats ran into trouble. A couple of misplayed balls by the Wildcats and key hits from the Owls, Anderson-Shiro took a 4-1 lead.

In the top of the seventh inning with Anderson two outs away from the win, the Owls pulled their starting pitcher and the Wildcats took advantage. Jarrett Purkerson started the rally with a walk. That was followed by a line drive single to center field by Conner Ruiz. Purkerson scored after Wyatt Reyes abd Thad Lilley drew back to back walks, putting the go-ahead run on first. Lucas Jackson picked up two huge RBIs on a liner to right center, tying the game 4-4 and advancing Lilley to third. The Wildcats’ cleanup hitter, Brayden Topkins, got the go-ahead RBI, scoring Lilley on a sacrifice grounder to shortstop, giving the Wildcats a 5-4 lead.

Going into the bottom of the seventh with Onalaska leading 5-4, starting pitcher Thad Lilley took the mound to try to close out the Owls with only 10 pitches left. First up was the lead off hitter, and Lilley got him to pop up to Jackson on five pitches. The next batter grounded out on two pitches. With two outs, Coach Cody Pinkert intentionally walked Anderson’s most dangerous hitter to face their cleanup batter, which would be Lilley’s last on the pitch limit. With a 3-1 count on the batter, he popped up to Ruiz in centerfield to end game at 5-4.

Lilley pitched a complete game for the Wildcats, throwing 114 pitches over seven innings allowing only two earned runs on six hits, three walks, and six strikeouts. Ruiz was 1-for-2 with a walk and scored two runs. 

“Thad had one of the better performances of his career,” Pinkert said. “The kid just competes. I say it often, you can’t teach someone to be a competitor, they either have it or they don’t, and Thad has it.”

The coach also talked about the play of Ruiz in center field. 

“Conner’s defense in center has been on a very high level. He has struggled a little offensively in the past, but he has made it almost impossible to DH for him this season. It seems like every few games he is getting a big hit for this team.”

Game 2 against Anderson-Shiro was scheduled for Friday night, but was suspended until Saturday morning because of field conditions.

Onalaska struggled at the plate against the Owls in game 2. The Wildcats didn’t give up, and took advantage of Anderson’s mistakes to get a hard-fought 2-1 win.

The Owls scored their only run of the game in the second inning, when the Wildcats let an easy pop fly drop in short right. They then hit a couple of Texas Leaguers to go up 1-0. Following that sequence, hits were scarce for both teams until the bottom of the sixth. Jackson led off the inning for Onalaska with a stand-up double, followed by a couple of walks by Topkins and Roth. A sacrifice grounder by Grant Thornton scored pinch runner Ryder Humbird-Smith to tie the game, 1-1. Next up, Purkerson hit a hard grounder that was booted by the Owl second baseman, allowing Roth score from third. A ground ball ended the inning, but Onalaska took the one-run lead. In the top of the seventh, the Owls had runners on first and second with two outs and their most dangerous hitter up. With a 1-0 count, the lefty hit a liner down the first-base line that hit the runner going to second for the final out, giving the Wildcats a 2-1 win.

The ‘Cats received a strong performance on the mound from Topkins. He went 4.1 innings, allowing a run on four hits, two walks and two strikeouts. Brody Hoover pitched 2.2 innings, allowing just one hit. Jackson got the only hit for the Wildcats. He was 1-for-2 with a standup double and a walk. Roth had two walks and scored a run. Reyes had three walks.

“I am very happy with Brayden and Brody’s performances today,” Pinkert said. Wins don’t come easy in district 23-3A. Anytime you can win a couple of games against a team of Anderson’s caliber, that’s got to fire you up.” 

With the sweep of the No. 14 Owls, Onalaska is 11-4 overall and 5-0 in District 23-3A. They are tied with Coldspring atop the district. They play the Crockett Bulldogs, Thursday night in Crockett with first pitch at 7 p.m. 

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