Emotions overflow as Grafton rides Fisk’s shutout to sectional title, state berth dedicated to fallen teammate
After the last pitch was thrown, hugs, tears and smiles said it all for the Grafton High School baseball last Saturday afternoon.
Not only did a 1-0 win over Nicolet in a WIAA sectional title game propel the Black Hawks to their first state tournament since 1983, the victory added another chapter to a season that has become Grafton’s Cinderella summer story.
Conor Fisk fired a called third strike past the final Nicolet batter, then he and the other Hawks erupted in a celebration on the
Cedarburg diamond that included the mother of one of their former teammates.
Jan Malkowski, whose son Matt died in April after being injured in a car accident, was embraced by each player before they accepted their championship plaque. The award was also shared with her by the team, which has dedicated its season to Matt, who would have been a senior outfielder.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Grafton coach Brian Durst said, his voice shaking with emotion. “For a team to overcome all that we have this season, I’m just in awe of their performance.”
All the Hawks did Saturday was stun the local baseball world by blanking the top-seeded Knights, who had defeated Grafton, 15-1 and 8-2, in two North Shore Conference games this season. A victory, even by the slimmest of margins, in the latest rematch was an upset — though not in the eyes of most Grafton faithful.
After Durst chose to rest Fisk in Friday’s semifinal victory over Brown Deer, the Hawks’ ace got the call for his team’s biggest game in recent memory. The senior right-hander was more than equal to the challenge, checking Nicolet’s potent offense on two hits, striking out nine and walking two.
Fisk had to dodge a pair of late scoring threats but kept the Knights off the board with the help of a bases-loaded double play in the sixth and a game-ending strikeout with two runners on in the seventh.
“It’s been a magical season for us,” Fisk said. “I didn’t think we would go all the way to state, but we found a way to get it done. We went out and played as hard as we could every game.”
Grafton, which won for the sixth straight time and took a 21-9 record into this week’s state tournament, managed only two hits off
Nicolet’s Max Kramsky. However, the Hawks found a way to scratch for the only run Fisk needed in the top of the fourth inning.
Robbie Doring started the rally with a single and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Dylan Mayer. After Alex Nennig drew a walk, Fisk struck out, but C.J. Koehler came through with a single that deflected off the glove of shortstop Brandon Zall.
Doring slid into third base, scrambled to his feet when the ball rolled into the outfield and raced home. Nennig was thrown out trying to reach third base on the same play, but Grafton owned its first lead of the season against Nicolet (25-12).
“The shortstop almost had it, so I had to slide into third base,” Doring said. “As soon as I got there, I saw coach (Durst) send me home, so I kept going.”
The Knights were poised to take the lead in the bottom of the sixth when they loaded the bases with one out.
After Robbie Mayer reached on an error, Brian Huntsinger beat out an infield single, and the pair pulled off a double steal. Fisk then walked hard-hitting Sam Kohnke on a 3-2 pitch, filling the bases for D.J. Peltz and forcing the Hawks to keep their infield up at the corners.
However, when Peltz grounded back to the mound, Fisk started a 1-2-3 double play, with Mayer cut down at the plate and catcher Skyler Bohn’s relay to first retiring Peltz.
“I was hoping for a strikeout, but we were really happy to get the double play,” Fisk said. “The ball came right back to me.”
Durst had his infield play up for each of the last two batters in the inning, knowing that a hit could drive in two runs. However, the
gamble was worth it, he reasoned.
“Kohnke wasn’t going to bloop one. If he hit the ball, it was going to be hard, and we had to be in position to cut the run down at the plate,” Durst said.
“Conor just made good pitches when he had to. He was doing his part out there, and so was everyone else.”
The Knights’ last gasp came with two outs in the seventh. After Joel Sharon reached on a tough-hop infield error, Zall was hit by a pitch. But Fisk ended the suspense by striking out Mayer on three pitches.
“I can’t tell you how impressed I am with the way our players responded,” said Durst, whose team reached a sectional title game for the first time since 1993. “Just to be able to play a good team like Nicolet in a sectional final was amazing, and then to win it 1-0 is beyond description.”
Even more moved by the Hawks’ accomplishment was Jan Malkowski, who said she predicted early in the season that they would reach the state tournament. After the game, she posed for photos wearing her son’s jersey, which the team has made sure to have at every game this season.
“I told them they would be going to state because I knew it would happen,” she said. “The boys have pulled together all year, and Matt has been there with them all the way.”
With hugs, tears and smiles, the Hawks were quick to agree.
“I was friends with Matt all through high school, and there’s no question we think about him every day,” Fisk said. “This is all about him.”
MEMBERS OF the Grafton High School baseball team were all smiles as they posed with their championship plaque after winning a WIAA sectional title Saturday in Cedarburg. The Black Hawks also celebrated their accomplishment with Jan Malkowski, mother of their former teammate Matt Malkowski, who died in April. The team dedicated their season to Matt. Photo by Sam Arendt