PARK FALLS, Wis. — The defense is usually the least of Hurley's worries.
The bats and pitching were there, but Chequamegon took advantage of six Midgette errors to win a WIAA Division 3 regional title with an exciting 6-5 win over young Hurley Tuesday.
The Screaming Eagles broke a 5-5 tie with an unearned run because of Hurley's final error of the game in the bottom of the sixth inning, making four of the six Chequamegon runs unearned.
"It comes down to, I always say defense wins games," Hurley manager Jim Kivisto said. "If you make the plays you should make, you'll always be in the game and we were still in the game with all the runs we gave up."
There's no doubt, Hurley still made it a great game.
Chequamegon jumped out to a 2-0 lead with a big second inning. One run scored due to an infield error, the third of the game to that point for Hurley.
Yet Hurley didn't sulk; the Midgettes took the lead with four runs in the third inning.
Senior Sam Ofstad's laser double brought home two runs to tie the game. On the first pitch of the next at-bat, Dana Brown's single brought Ofstad home.
Courtney Clement reached on an error and Felicia Herlevi doubled to plate Brown for a 4-2 Hurley advantage.
Chequamegon tacked on an unearned run in the third. Kristen Pechacek reached on an outfield error. Hannah Gruber's two-out base hit brought her home and Hurley led 4-3.
Hurley scored its last run in the fourth inning.
Tianne Kuula walked — she reached all three times from the No. 9 spot. Athena Butkiewicz immediately followed with a double to leftfield to score Kuula.
Chequamegon swapped cousins on the mound after that, from Megan Mader to Brianna Mader.
Hurley didn't get another hit over the final three-plus innings. Part of that was strategy, the Screaming Eagles intentionally walked Hurley's top hitter, Ofstad, twice.
With two outs in the fourth, Ofstad was walked the first time. Cleanup hitter Dana Brown flied out to shortstop to end the inning.
"That's a smart move," Kivisto said of walking her. "You can't say that's cheap or anything. Dana just missed it (in the fourth). She hit it on the end of the bat."
Chequamegon tied the game in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Danielle Masterson led off with a double. Pechacek hit a laser to leftfield that landed fair and rolled into foul territory past the outfield fence.
Chequamegon’s fence only extends to the foul pole with a grassy area opening to the left of that. Hurley thought that was out of play and therefore a ground-rule double, but Pechacek circled the bases for a two-run home run.
Chequamegon coach Ken Dischler confirmed that is out of play.
"The fielder has to raise their hands and call it dead," he said. "If she doesn't and she chases it, it's still in play."
Chequamegon followed with two singles anyway but did no further damage in the fifth.
Hurley threatened one more time in the sixth inning.
Kuula led off with her second walk and Butkiewicz sacrificed her to second base. With two outs, Ofstad was intentionally walked for a second time. This time, Brown was walked unintentionally to load the bases.
Clement flied out to centerfield to end the threat.
"That falls down, we get two runs in," Kivisto said.
Hurley pitcher Brittany Czarnecki, who entered in the fifth, got two easy outs to start the sixth inning. She induced a routine ground ball to third, but the throw was off target for Hurley's sixth error of the game.
Pechacek made Hurley pay with an RBI single to put Chequamegon up 6-5.
Brianna Mader struck out the side in the seventh inning to end the game, setting off a big celebration for Chequamegon.
"I just told them in the dugout, 'Look at that because that should be you over there right now cheering," Kivisto said. "It's a great learning experience for them, too."
On one hand, Hurley has just two seniors, Ofstad and Butkiewicz, so the youth caught up to the Midgettes. On the other hand, Hurley finished at 11-6 and made these defensive plays almost the entire year. As for the future, it looks bright with 14 players returning.
"It was a little bit of inexperience, yeah, I think it showed today," Kivisto said. "I think they were pretty tight today. They made the plays throughout the year. You kind of shake your head because they did make those plays."
Dischler said the Screaming Eagles hit it hard, but not as hard as usual.
"They made a couple mistakes," he said. "They're a younger team. They're going to be very good as they mature. But we hit it hard and were very aggressive on the bases just like they are."
He was happy the way his team played.
"Just the way the girls battled," Dischler said. "We haven't been behind a whole lot this year, a couple games. We're relatively young. On the field they're not young, pretty controlled, pretty even-keeled, pretty good bunch of kids. Jimmy's got a good bunch of kids."
Ofstad's fantastic Hurley athletic career ended with four times on base but a heartbreaking loss. Butkiewicz started the game and did her job on the mound. Czarnecki finished, taking the hard-luck loss when she gave up just one hit and the game-winning unearned run.
"I feel bad for Sam and Athena," Kivisto said. "Athena pitched a good game. She did not deserve to lose the game. The way it was going I thought we really needed her in the outfield. Brittany didn't do anything wrong either. You've got to make the plays and we didn't make them."
A big move for Chequamegon was changing pitchers. Hurley looked confident against Megan Mader, but there were a lot of swings and misses against Brianna Mader.
"I don't think anything (changed), except she had a jerky herky release," Kivisto said. "We may have just lost the release a little bit."
Dischler said Brianna was deceptive.
"She was pumped, a junior," he said. "Megan did good pitching, too. She just hung a couple pitches. Good hitters are going to hit those. She got herself in a little bit of trouble walking the No. 9 hitter. Can't do that stuff."
Chequamegon hosts Grantsburg Tuesday in a WIAA sectional semifinal.
The Screaming Eagles have won six of the last seven regional titles in Division 3, last beating Hurley in a regional final as Park Falls in 2009, 6-3. Hurley has lost two years in regional play, last winning in Division 4 in 2011. The Midgettes have only lost in the regional seven times in their 25-year existence.
Hurley 0 0 4 1 0 0 0 — 5 7 6
Chequamegon 0 2 1 0 2 1 x — 6 10 2