By Clay Lilley
The Onalaska Wildcats finished one of their best baseball seasons in school history Saturday, with the final two games of the bi-district playoffs ending in one-run differences in Caldwell versus Brazos.
Onalaska won Game 1 in a best-of-three series 5-0, with some clutch hitting and another strong pitching performance from senior Brady Smith. Smith threw a complete game shutout of seven innings, allowing no runs on one hit with six strikeouts and four walks.
Onalaska got on the board first in the second inning on a Ty Phillips single to left field, scoring Alex Batiste from third base. Senior Zach Taylor hit a double down the first-base line, scoring Smith to make the score 2-0. Then, Lucas Jackson scored Taylor on a fielder’s choice, pushing the Wildcat lead to 3-0.
Brazos threatened to score with the bases loaded and no out in the fourth, but the Wildcats held them off. The ‘Cats scored again in the fifth inning. With the bases loaded, Smith laid down a squeeze bunt scoring Jackson. Then, Jeret Purkerson hit a sacrifice grounder to second base, allowing Grant Thornton to score the final run of the game.
Wildcat centerfielder Wyatt Reyes scored from first base on an error by Brazos in the first inning, and in the second inning, Purkerson scored from third on a bases-loaded walk, giving the Wildcats an early 2-0 advantage.
The Brazos offense finally got going in the third inning, scoring four runs on an error, balk, and a triple, taking a 4-2 lead in the game.
Onalaska took the lead back in the sixth inning when Taylor got two RBIs on a line-drive single to center field and Purkerson scored from third on an error by the catcher, giving the Wildcats a 5-4 lead.
In the bottom of the seventh with a runner on third, Onalaska made an error, allowing the Cougars to tie the game at 5-5. Then in the eighth inning, Brazos scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly to center for a 6-5 final.
Onalaska started the junior Thornton on the mound in Game 2.
“Grant did a really great job for us, scattering six hits over seven innings, striking out five and only giving up maybe three earned runs,” Onalaska head coach Cody Pinkert said of Thornton’s performance. “I’ll take that stat line all day. We were proud of his performance.”
Taylor pitched the eighth inning for the Wildcats, giving up a run on two hits and taking the loss for Game 2.
The Brazos win tied the series and set up a winner-take-all Game 3, what every baseball player dreams of. Unfortunately for Onalaska, the dream didn’t end well.
The Wildcats started lefty Brody Hoover on the mound against the Cougars. Brazos took an early 2-0 lead, putting two runs on the board in the first inning on a double steal and a sacrifice fly. Hoover kept the Wildcats in the game, pitching four innings, allowing two runs on three hits, striking out two, and walking two.
Onalaska got on the board in the fourth on a Jackson RBI-single to center, scoring Conner Ruiz from third. Then in the sixth, Jackson hit an RBI-double to right field, scoring Reyes from second base, tying the game at 2-2.
The Cougars came right back and scored once again in the bottom of the sixth. That run would be too much for the Wildcats to overcome, losing Game 3 with the final score of 3-2.
Freshman Ty Phillips pitched the final two innings for Onalaska and allowed only one run on one hit, while striking out four.
“Brody and Ty both stepped up for us on the biggest stage either of them has ever pitched on, and did the job their team needed,” Pinkert said. “Both of them deserve a lot of credit for the job they did in Game 3 for us.”
The loss ends the season for Onalaska with a 17-10-1 record. Though the season ended vwith two heartbreaking losses, the Wildcats finished with 17 wins, placed second in district, and won its first playoff game – all bests in school history.
The team had three seniors – Smith (pitcher/utility), Taylor (first base/pitcher) and Aiden Roberts (outfielder). Their leadership and experience will be missed, but most of the team returns next year, including juniors Jackson (shortstop), Thornton (second base/pitcher), Hoover (first base/pitcher); sophomores Thad Lilley (catcher/pitcher), Purkerson (third base/pitcher), Ruiz (center field/catcher); and freshmen Reyes (left field), Batiste (right field), and Phillips (pitcher/outfielder). The future looks bright for Pinkert and his Onalaska Wildcats
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