PARK FALLS, Wis. — Hurley left the bats in Phillips.
The Midgets totaled just two hits and one run as Chequamegon won a WIAA Division 3 regional title 11-1 in 6 innings Wednesday. That was just a day after Hurley slugged 18 hits in a 12-9 semifinal victory over Phillips.
It’s the fourth regional title in five years for the Screaming Eagles.
Twelve walks and multiple errors compounded Hurley’s offensive struggles. Eight of the 11 Screaming Eagle runs scored on walks, errors and wild pitches. Chequamegon had seven hits.
“The biggest difference tonight, they threw strikes. We struggled to throw strikes,” Hurley manager Aaron Bender said. “They hit. We did not. When they got the runners on, they could do things offensively — steals, bunts, etc. We did not have enough runners on to do things offensively.”
Chequamegon took early control of the game, using ace Mitch Little to shut the Midgets down while the Screaming Eagles scored one run in the first and seven more in the second.
It had to happen quickly because Little only had three innings to pitch Wednesday after going four in Chequamegon’s 7-6 escape win over Ladysmith Tuesday. Chequamegon wanted Little, a senior, to start rather than Justin Herbst, who has pitched well recently but may have been nervous to start without a cushion as a sophomore.
“The reason we started him was to hopefully set the tone for the game,” Chequamegon manager Tom Armstrong said of Little. “He’s been pitching really tough for us the last few weeks. It worked out the way we wanted it to. If we don’t get a lead, then we got a dog fight. We had one good inning where everything went our way. Sometimes that’s what baseball does for you.”
Little, the leadoff hitter, scored the first Chequamegon run. He reached on a two-base Hurley throwing error to start the game and he stole third. Little then broke for home while Sam Lehman engaged Hurley in a rundown between first and second. Lehman was out, but Little scored without a throw.
Hurley trailed 1-0 after one inning.
“That gives the other team the momentum you don’t want them to have,” Bender said. “(One run is) too much. It changes the outlook of your pitcher. Jared (Wendt), at that point, was throwing strikes.”
The game was largely decided before Hurley recorded an out in the Chequamegon half of the second inning. Nine batters came up to the plate before Jared Mader sacrificed for the first out and the Screaming Eagles didn’t score again after that in the frame. They already had an 8-0 lead.
Hurley gave up seven runs with nobody out. Four walks were issued with no outs, three of them scored. Two runners came home on wild pitches. Four Chequamegon hits plated runs.
“It was just good at bats,” Armstrong said. “We were lucky to win the game with Ladysmith and I felt we weren’t patient enough at the plate. When a pitcher’s struggling, you don’t help him by popping them up over his head.”
Wendt only lasted an official inning on the mound. He faced five in the second and they all came around to score. P.J. Lipske finished, giving up five runs of his own. He allowed two of Wendt’s runners to score and let two additional runs cross the plate in the second.
Hurley used ace Grant Innes to beat Phillips Tuesday and get to Wednesday.
“For some reason, they just do not step up for different pitchers,” Bender said. “The defense kind of let the pitching staff down at different times. Defense, in big games has been our Achilles heel.”
Little struck out six in his two innings. He allowed two walks and Hurley got a runner in scoring position in both innings with two outs.
Beau Shafer picked up both of Hurley’s hits, one in the third and the other in the fifth. The first Hurley out not by strikeout was the first out in the fourth inning. The first nine outs were strikeouts; only three Hurley hitters struck out the rest of the way.
Mike Saari scored Hurley’s only run, in the fifth. He reached on an error and scored on Cole Kivisto’s groundout. Kivisto was called safe at first by the infield umpire. Armstrong argued and the home plate umpire overturned it. Saari scored either way.
Rain surrounded Park Falls in the late innings, making it dark enough to use the lights. Somehow it didn’t start raining until immediately after Chequamegon ended the game in the sixth with its 10-run lead.
Hurley (9-7) plays at Bayfield twice Monday. It’s nice to be able to have a chance for redemption then, Bender said.
“Looking forward to a big Monday,” he said. “We want to have a good position in the conference. We may not win it, but I’d like to finish second or third. We’re somewhere in that mix.”
Hurley played two solid games to start the regional — wins over Cornell/Lake Holcombe and Phillips — but couldn’t continue that with a poor start Wednesday.
“Two very good games in the regional,” Bender said. “But the other thing you don’t want is to lay an egg. I think in a way we laid an egg tonight, at least for two innings and it’s tough. It’s a learning experience for some of these kids. They deserved to win. They hit the ball. We didn’t.”
Chequamegon plays Cumberland in Tuesday’s sectional semifinal at Osseo-Fairchild. Cumberland beat Grantsburg 4-2 in 8 innings Wednesday.
Hurley 0 0 0 0 1 0 — 1 2 5
Chequamegon 1 7 0 1 0 2 — 11 7 2