Walk this way:

Grafton closes regular season with two thrilling victories in final at-bat to build momentum heading into the playoffs
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Grafton’s High School baseball team found some leftover fireworks after the Fourth of July last week.

The Black Hawks thrilled their fans and pleased their coach with two walk-off victories in polar opposite types of games to end the regular season.

“We closed out the week on a positive note and that’s exactly what we set out to do at the outset of the week ­— play good baseball going into postseason,” coach Brian Durst said.

On senior night on Friday, the Hawks dominated Big East Conference champion Random Lake with a 12-2 victory in five innings via the 10-run mercy rule.

The game didn’t look like it would prematurely end, however, when Grafton had two outs with two runners on base — both reached on errors — and only up 5-2, in the fifth.

Then the rally started. Jack Pawlak drove in two runs with a single, Jake Garncarz singled and Zach Brandenburg drove in two more with a double. Zach Merkle walked, and Matthew Tietz reached on an error that scored a run and moved runners to second and third. Jacob Aleknavicius ended the game with a base hit to right center that plated the final two runs.

“We wanted to celebrate our seniors, and we did,” Durst said.

Grafton started the game with three runs in the first inning. Pawlak walked, and a ground ball moved courtesy runner Josh Merkle to second. Brandenburg doubled to put two runners on, and Zach Merkle plated one with a sacrifice fly. Tietz walked, and Aleknavicius and Lucas Gosewehr followed with RBI singles.

Senior Ian Walton pitched all five innings, allowing two unearned runs in the fourth inning on a couple of errors. He scattered six hits, whiffed one and walked none.

“That was a really nice job by Walton on senior night,” Durst said.

Aleknavicius went 3-for-4 with three RBI. Brandenburg went 2-for-4 with two doubles and two runs scored, and Garncarz went 2-for-4 with an RBI and run scored.

One day earlier, the Hawks closed out the North Shore Conference season by slipping by Homestead in a 1-0 walk-off.

Tied at 0-0 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Colin Indermuehle led off with a walk, and Adam Schnell sacrificed him to second. Pawlak was intentionally walked, setting the table for Garncarz.

The junior nailed a single to center, and Indermuehle hustled from second to beat the throw home and end the game.

“That was a great game and an exciting way to finish the conference season against a good opponent,” Durst said.

Aleknavicius handled things on the mound, going 6-1/3 innings before reaching his pitch count. Pawlak came into the game with a runner on second. He whiffed two batters to end the threat.

Durst said the two wins — and more importantly how the Hawks played — were key to end the regular season.

“We regained the form we showed two weeks ago and hopefully carry that into the postseason,” he said.

On July 3, the Hawks stranded several runners in a 9-4 loss to West Bend West. Gosewehr went 3-for-4 with an RBI, and Indermuehle went 2-for-4 with two RBI.

On July 2, the Hawks lost, 9-1, to Nicolet. Zach Merkle had their only hit.

Grafton finished 8-8 and tied for fourth place in the NSC. The Hawks were 13-11 overall and earned a No. 7 seed in the playoffs.

They were to host No. 10-seeded Whitefish Bay on Tuesday. A victory would have the Hawks travel to No. 2-seeded Menomonee Falls on Wednesday.

Playing two games in two days was intentional, Durst said.

“It’s to try to separate the teams that have pitching depth versus those who rely on one pitcher,” he said.

“It gives an advantage to teams with a first-round bye.”

The Hawks, he said, should be able to handle the tight schedule, if they win their opener. They’ve played doubleheaders and in tournaments during the season to help prepare.

“Our team is set up for tournament-style play,” Durst said.

“For us, it’s going to be more a matter of do we produce offensively and do we just execute the basics defensively and make plays behind our pitchers.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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