GRAND CHUTE — Some Jefferson players thought it was a knuckle-curve. Eagles coach Greg Fetherston called it ‘Uncle Charlie.’
Whatever it was that Waupun junior Caden Bronkhorst was throwing Thursday afternoon at Fox Cities Stadium, Jefferson had just as much trouble hitting it as the Eagles did identifying it.
Bronkhorst followed up a sectional final one-hitter of second-ranked Waukesha Catholic Memorial with a 6 2/3 inning of four-hit ball as the top-ranked Warriors took a 4-0 win for the WIAA Division 2 State Baseball Championship. Waupun (25-2) took its first title since 2007 and reversed last year’s 8-6 title game loss to West Salem while the Eagles (19-10) were hoping to add another crown to their 2014 conquest.
“You have to tip your hat,” Fetherston said. “‘Uncle Charlie’ got us today.”
Bronkhorst struck out nine and walked two before departing due to the 100-pitch limit. Sophomore Vaughn Williston was able to get Ryan Brost to fly out to left with the bases loaded for the final out.
Jefferson came off a 14-2 rout of Mosinee in five innings the previous evening and had outscored its playoff opponents by a combined 47-7 margin. In Bronkhorst, the Warriors had the perfect antidote to the fastball-feasting Eagles.
“We went from 14 to zero,” Jefferson senior Brandon Laesch said. “That means something.
“He threw hard and he had a 12-to-6 curve. Some guys thought it was a knuckle-curve. It was tough to wait back on.”
Bronkhorst combined his difficult repertoire with acute location to give the Eagles very little to hit. He made very few mistakes and it proved to be a lethal mix.
“He mixed it up and we saw stuff we haven’t seen all year,” Jefferson senior Evan Anfang said. “He located his off-speed stuff and did a really good job. He did a good job putting it where he wanted to, especially up in the count.”
Waupun gave him an early cushion to work with as Jak Lenz led off the bottom of the first with a single. Baron Buchholz sacrificed him into scoring position and Caleb Sauer’s two-out single gave the Warriors a lead they would not relinquish.
Laesch had half of Jefferson’s hits, including a leadoff double in the third inning. Reese Fetherston bunted him to third but Bronkhorst kept the Eagles off the board by striking out Brost and Zack Peterson.
“We probably needed to get a run across there,” coach Fetherston said. “Ryan has been hitting great and he’s been good at making adjustments.
“We haven’t done a safety squeeze all year and we didn’t want to change our philosophy here.”
Waupun had senior Bradyn VandeZande replace the injured Reece Homan, the Warriors’ leader in home runs, after VandeZande had a pinch two-run single in Waupun’s 6-3 semifinal win over Ellsworth. VandeZande led off the third with a single, was sacrificed to second by Jarrett Buchholz and scored when Lenz lined an RBI double to center.
Frustration started to show in the top of the fourth when the home plate umpire refused to give Ian Drays, who singled in his first at-bat, time as he took a strike while half in the batters’ box. Drays, a Northern Illinois recruit, grounded out on the next pitch.
“I don’t know what he was thinking there,” Drays said of the quick pitch. “I’ve never had that happen to me on varsity.”
Jefferson would get two on later in the inning only to have Bronkhorst strike out Nick Hauser to end the threat. Waupun added to its lead in the fifth when Buchholz drew a leadoff walk, stole second and came in on another RBI double by Lenz.
When Baron Buchholz bunted, Drays threw wide of first and Lenz scored for a 4-0 edge. Drays completed six innings with five strikeouts and kept the Eagles in the contest.
“I thought Ian pitched well,” coach Fetherston said. “It’s only his second complete game of the year.”
Meanwhile, Bronkhorst needed just 15 combined pitches to get through the fifth and sixth innings. With two outs in the seventh, the Eagles managed to keep themselves alive starting with Hauser getting plunked.
Laesch took an 0-2 pitch to right for his second hit of the day. He was one of the few Eagles with answers for Bronkhorst.
“I was thinking curve and I hit it both times,” said Laesch, who also caught a runner stealing with a perfect throw in the first inning. “I wasn’t thinking about anything else besides just putting the barrel on it and keeping the game going.”
Fetherston then pinch-hit for his son, Reese, with senior Dante Heard in the ninth spot. Heard worked a five-pitch walk and Jefferson was finally done with Bronkhorst.
“We could’ve laid down at the end,” coach Fetherston said. “Dante had a great at-bat when he could’ve been swinging out of his shoes. It was not easy but a decision had to be made and we’ve got some seniors that have earned that chance.”
That enabled Brost to come to the plate as the tying run as a game Waupun seemingly had tucked away got interesting fast. The tense at-bat went to full count before Brost just got under the final pitch.
“We weren’t able to make the adjustment and we had too many strikeouts,” coach Fetherston said. “But pitching and defense usually make the difference at this level.
“Waupun was here last year and came up short. Hopefully we can take that bad taste in our mouths and make next year our year.”
Note: There was a misunderstanding of the pitch count rule in regards to the article on Wednesday’s 14-2 semifinal win over Mosinee.
Once a pitcher reaches 30 pitches, he is unable to pitch the following day.
In the case of Brost, he reached that mark in the second inning before Jefferson scored 11 runs to take a 14-1 lead in the third inning. So by rule, there was no opportunity to pull Brost and save him for the title game.
Jefferson 000 000 0 — 0 4 1
Waupun 101 020 X — 4 7 0
Leading hitters — Laesch (J) 2x3; Lenz (W) 3x3.
2B — Laesch (J); Lenz 2 (W).