Comeback bid falls short for Grafton

But Hawks’ two-day nail-biter over Whitefish Bay will go down in history

GRAFTON’S JACK PAWLAK tagged out a Menomonee Falls runner on a relay throw from Zach Brandenburg to complete a double play and end a four-run first inning of last Thursday’s playoff game in Menomonee Falls. The Hawks lost, 9-5, to end their season. Photo by Mitch Maersch
Ozaukee Press staff

An early hole was a little too much for the Grafton High School baseball team to climb out of last Thursday at Menomonee Falls, closing out another successful Black Hawks’ season.

“It was a great season. I’m really proud of what the guys were able to do. To put up 14 wins playing the competition we did all season long is a real tribute to all of our players,” coach Brian Durst said.

The Hawks finished 14-12 and went 8-8 in the North Shore Conference, tied for third with West Bend East.

Last Thursday was the final game for several seniors, including Ian Walton, Matthew Fischer, Lucas Gosewehr, Zach Brandenburg, Jack Pawlak and Matthew Tietz.

Pawlak ended his career going 2-for-4 with two doubles.

“Freshman year, I still remember my first at-bat in conference. I can’t believe it’s gone by. It will be bittersweet going off to Madison next year. I’m going to miss the game a lot. It’s extremely fun,” he said.

The Hawks fell behind by five runs through two innings and lost, 9-5, to the eventual state qualifiers.

The game was pushed back a day due to the two-day battle Grafton needed to dispose of Whitefish Bay. On July 10, the teams played 11 innings to a 3-3 stalemate before the game was suspended due to darkness. On July 11, Grafton scored in the 13th to win, 4-3.

“That gave us some momentum coming in today and gave us  confidence to know that we were going to give Menomonee Falls all they could handle, and then we just didn’t execute a couple of plays defensively,” Durst said.

“We ended up giving up too many free bases, whether it be on a walk or an error. We just weren’t sharp all the way around.”

Grafton took the lead in the top of the first. With two outs and nobody on base, Jake Garncrz reached when the Indians’ third baseman bobbled his grounder. A fielding error at shortstop on a ball hit by

Zack Merkle put runners on first and second.

Jacob Aleknavicius, no stranger to clutch hitting, then clocked a low liner to center field to score Garncarz.

Falls answered with four runs in the bottom of the first. Brandenburg started and walked three batters and hit another, and the Hawks made a fielding error that contributed to Falls’ scoring.

Walton relieved Brandenburg and, after giving up a hit, got the final two outs on a fly out to Garncarz in right field, who fired  to Brandenburg, who threw home where Pawlak made a diving tag to nail an Indian who tried to tag up and score.

Two walks and an error brought in two more Falls’ runs in the second inning.

Grafton got one back in the fourth. Brandenburg led off by getting hit by a pitch, and Pawlak later doubled him home with a bomb to center field.

Falls scored one in the fourth and two more in the fifth to extend its lead to 9-2.

“We put ourselves in a hole and it was really tough to overcome,” Durst said.

The Hawks tried to come back in the sixth. With two outs and nobody on base, Pawlak nailed his second double, this time over the center fielder’s head. Matthew Tietz followed with a line drive RBI single to right field. Garncarz and Zack Merkle then reached on errors, plating two more runs.

The Hawks brought in Pawlak to pitch in the sixth inning. One batter reached on an error, but Pawlak whiffed two and didn’t allow a run.

Grafton went quietly in the seventh, with two strikeouts and a ground out.

“Our seniors were just outstanding leaders and more than anything just high-character guys who love the game of baseball. They’re so humble and so willing to work with underclassmen. Really, there were no egos on this team and it’s really been one of the favorites I’ve had a chance to coach,” Durst said.

For Falls, Ben Heitman started and pitched four innings to earn the victory. His brother Alex went 1-2/3 innings in the pair’s final home game of the season with a banner honoring their father hanging in right field. Patrick Heitman died June 4, 2017, after being struck by a car while riding his bike. Alex Heitman had two hits in the game, including a triple.

The Indians went on to beat West Bend East, 8-3; and Germantown, 5-3, on Monday to advance to Friday’s state tournament at Kapco Park in Mequon for the third time in four years.

Grafton survives marathon to advance

After 11 innings of 3-3 baseball in Grafton on July 10, the Hawks and Blue Dukes came back to the same place at the same time on July 11 to decide the affair.

Nobody knew how many innings it would take. Aleknavicius decided that.

Pawlak led off the 13th with a walk, and Garncarz reached on an error on a ball up the middle. Brandenburg bunted to move the runners over, and Merkle was intentionally walked, setting the table for Aleknavicius.

The junior smacked a base hit up the middle to score courtesy runner Tyler Tsui, send the Hawks to Menomonee Falls and their fans into hysterics.

Grafton needed clutch play just to send the game into extra innings. The Hawks were down, 3-1, entering the sixth inning.

With two outs and the bases empty, Tietz singled. Gosewehr followed with a double down the left field line, and Tietz hustled around the bases to score.

The Hawks nearly tied the game in the inning after Colin Indermuehle hit a hard single to left field, but Durst said he knew the one-hopper reached standout athlete Carson Kimple too fast. Kimple fired a one-hopper to the plate.

“Gosewehr would have been out by about 40 feet,” Durst said.

In the seventh inning, Grafton started a rally to tie the game the same way, by making two outs.

Then Brandenburg walked, and Merkle singled. Aleknavicius reached on a fielder’s choice to load the bases.

Tietz, for the second time in two innings, came up with a clutch hit, this time a single to right field. A fielder’s choice ended the inning and sent the game into extra frames.

“What a great job by our kids to put up the single runs in the sixth and seventh, after two outs,” Durst said.

Aleknavicius pitched the first seven innings, allowing three runs on seven hits, whiffing five and walking one.

“He had a great game,” Durst said.

Pawlak then took over, allowing one hit in three innings, getting help from a double play.

Brandenburg didn’t allow a run in the 12th and 13 innings.

“We did our job defensively and on the mound. We were just waiting for an opportunity to drive in a run,” Durst said.

Grafton came through in that decisive 13th. It was the first time Durst ever remembers a playoff game being suspended due to darkness.



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