Clutch hits elude upset-minded Port baseball team in season-ending regional battle with West Bend East
Two nights removed from their biggest win of the season, the Port Washington Pirates were eager to continue a Cinderella baseball story last Friday night.
West Bend East had different plans.
After struggling to shake an upstart foe early, host East pulled away for a 7-3 victory in a WIAA regional final at Regner Park.
“We thought we had a good chance to win it,” said Port coach Nicholas Wycklendt, whose team was coming off a 6-5 upset win over Homestead in a regional semifinal.
“We had a lot of good opportunities, but we couldn’t get the big hit this time.”
The Pirates went into the title game with only six wins this season but had split two close North Shore Conference games against East, including a 6-4 victory July 2.
East took a 2-0 lead by scoring runs in the first and second innings off starting pitcher Mitch Bartlein, thanks in part to a two-out error in the second.
Port returned the favor with a two-run third.
After Mitch Schmit and Bartlein drew walks off Jonah Maas, Aaron Brockman’s bad-hop single to left field made it 2-1. Sam Lepak followed with single that eluded the first baseman, and Bartlein raced home with the tying run.
But the Pirates’ fate began to change in the fourth when Maas gave way to reliever Matt Schubert, East’s top pitcher.
Schubert kept Port in check the rest of the way, allowing one run and striking out nine. Although the Pirates had plenty of base runners in the final four innings with three hits and three walks, they managed only one run.
Port stranded 10 runners, including three in the seventh when Schubert struck out the final two batters with the bases loaded.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead, East broke things open with a four-run fifth inning. The outburst included four singles, two steals and an error.
Providing the biggest blow was Paul Kaufmann, whose two-run bloop single stretched the Suns’ advantage to 7-2.
Despite the loss, Wycklendt praised the determination shown by his team, which started the playoffs as a No. 14 seed.
“We came in feeling really confident, especially after beating Homestead (No. 3),” he said. “We were playing well and thought we could have pulled it out.”
Bartlein, a junior right-hander, did what he could to keep the Pirates in contention.
In five innings on the mound, he allowed eight hits, struck out two and walked three.
At the plate, Bartlein was 2-for-3 with a walk, matching Brockman’s effort.
The Pirates’ final run of the season came in the sixth. Aiden Wojciehowski drew a lead-off walk, reached second base on a wild pitch and scored on pinch hitter Brett Kirmse’s single.
The loss left Port with a 6-25 record. The mark wasn’t what Wycklendt hoped for in his second season as head coach but was somewhat deceptive, he noted.
“We started out slow and lost a lot of close games, but the guys kept playing hard,” he said.
“They continued to improve and were playing good baseball by the end of the season. We have something to build on for next year.”
The Pirates will lose four players to graduation: Spencer Reiss and tri-captains Schmit, Brockman and Derek Haley.
Friday’s win improved East to 16-13 and advanced it into sectional play this week.
Image Information: Shortstop Mitch Schmit avoided a sliding East runner as he turned a double play. Photos by Sam Arendt