They’ve seen this movie before

But third installment of Grafton vs. Whitefish Bay in baseball is more preposterous than the first two
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Call it an unlucky bounce, a game of inches, Whitefish Bay black magic or the baseball gods’ cruel sense of humor.

It was all the of the above and more when Grafton High School’s baseball team faced its North Shore Conference rival in a Division 2 sectional semifinal at Carthage College on June 4.

With apologies to author Judith Viorst, the Black Hawks had their season end with a 2-1 loss after a series of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad plays.

Fast forward to the fifth inning. Lefty Tommy Lamb and the Blue Dukes’ starting pitcher made things boring until then, except for fans of brilliant pitching. Lamb carried a no-hitter into the frame.

In the top of the inning, the Black Hawks took the lead. Josh Merkle walked, Adam Schnell bunted him to second and Colin Indermuehle reached on an error that scored a run.

In the bottom of the fifth, Lamb whiffed the leadoff batter and then allowed his first hit, a single to right field. A wild pitch moved the runner to second.

“That was a big base. Lamb had already picked off three runners at first,” coach Brian Durst said.

The next batter hit a seeing-eye single up the middle, just out of reach of the shortstop’s outstretched glove, to tie the game. Lamb promptly whiffed the next two batters.

But the Hawks came right back in the sixth inning. Carson Bernd led off with a double, and Jacob Aleknavicius executed a “perfect bunt” to move Bernd to third, Durst said.

Sam Bulgrin was up next. He took a wild pitch that went through the catcher’s legs. Bernd took off for home.

But, Durst said, there are just a couple of columns of bricks behind home plate at Carthage College’s turf field. The ball found one and bounced right back to the Blue Dukes’ catcher to his glove. He tagged Bernd for the out.

The next pitch got through the catcher’s legs again. This time it did not carom off the bricks. It rolled to the side. Bernd would have scored easily.

“You just have to shake your head and walk it off,” Durst said.

Bulgrin drew a walk. Merkle followed with a shot to deep right center. The Blue Dukes’ center fielder made a running catch.

The game would remain tied at 1-1 until the final inning. Lamb whiffed two more in the bottom of the sixth and the Blue Dukes didn’t score.

In the top of the seventh, Schnell led off with an infield single, and Jake Garncarz followed with one of his own. Indermuehle tried to bunt them in scoring position and easily beat the throw. The bases were loaded with no outs.

“This is where coaching will kill you,” a still-alive Durst said.

The Hawks had their Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters up.

On an 0-2 count, Lamb hit a sinking line drive to right field. The outfielder made a sliding catch and was too shallow to allow the runner on third to tag up and try to score.

Zack Merkle, a three-year letter winner and team captain, lined a ball over the shortstop’s head.

“Everybody thought it would be a base hit,” Durst said.

But the ball was hit just hard enough to allow the left-fielder to make a diving catch. The runner on third, thinking it would drop, didn’t get back in time to tag up.

Then Bernd, who Durst said hit the ball hard all game, did so again. But a sharp grounder to the shortstop ended in a fielder’s choice and thus the Hawks’ half of the inning.

“At that point, I pretty much thought it wasn’t going to be our day,” Durst said.

In the bottom of the seventh, Lamb got a pop fly from the leadoff hitter. It went to that “Bermuda Triangle” behind the shortstop and in between left and center, Durst said. But it’s a play the Hawks have made all season.

This time, the ball dropped in for a single. A wild pitch on a third strike allowed the runner to move to second base.

With two outs, Lamb reached pitch 100, meaning he had to leave the game, according to WIAA rules. The Blue Dukes weren’t complaining.

In came Jacob Aleknavicius, Grafton’s No. 2 starter who was having another fine season.

“He was ready for the call all along. He did exactly what he was asked to do,” Durst said.

With one pitch, Aleknavicius induced a grounder. It took one big hop on the turf, causing a charging shortstop to rush the throw to first. The ball bounced and the first baseman couldn’t scoop it.

The Blue Dukes’ runner scored from third. Game over. Season over.

“It was a great game, a great battle,” Durst said.

Lamb’s line read like a pitcher that would have gotten the victory. In 6-2/3 innings, he allowed two runs — both unearned — and three hits, whiffing 13 and walking two. He pitched 4-1/3 innings of no-hit ball.

“It was absolutely a dominant performance, just a great game plan,” Durst said.

“I couldn’t have asked for more out of Lamb on the mound.”

While this game happened to be in the playoffs, the two North Shore Conference rivals were plenty familiar with playing each other during the regular season series.

The Blue Dukes won one game, 3-2, in eight innings on a balk by a Grafton pitcher. They won the other, 4-2, in Grafton, while the Hawks had the tying run on base when they made the final out.

Grafton finished the season 15-10 overall and 9-9, good for fifth place in the NSC. Whitefish Bay won the league at 16-2.

“We were pitch-for-pitch with them all season. It shows where our program and our kids are at,” Durst said.

“It was Bay’s year. We made them work hard for a chance to play in the sectional championship.”

In that sectional final, Union Grove didn’t mess around with the Blue Dukes and beat them, 9-2, to advance to the state tournament.

The Blue Dukes finished 27-3.

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