A gutty and opportunistic effort gave the Greenfield baseball team a crucial 7-2 triumph over Pius XI as well as a long sought-after championship on July 10.
The Hustlin' Hawks improved to 11-7 in the Woodland Conference, which was good enough to win the East Division crown by a game over South Milwaukee (10-8).
This was Greenfield's first title since the 1996 season, and head coach Lee Kleszczynski said it was won the old-fashioned way.
'It was pitching and defense,' Kleszczynski said. 'We had the best team earned-run average in conference play at 3.06. Richard Thomas, Ben Fularczyk and Dominick Meyer made a strong rotation, and guys like Parker Rome and Zach Szalacinski filled in with some key innings at the end of the season.'
Hawks beat out Rockets
Kleszczynski said the Hawks stuck to their season plan.
'Our goal is always to win the conference,' he said. 'We knew South Milwaukee was probably the team to beat, and we just wanted to stay within striking distance.'
Greenfield indeed stayed with the Rockets, as well as Shorewood, Whitnall and Brown Deer, in what turned out to be a balanced race. The Hawks swept Shorewood and earned splits with the other three teams this season.
'The last two weeks, we've basically been playing nothing but playoff games,' the coach continued. 'This was a real entertaining season.'
Thomas added, 'This (the title) means a lot. Coach K has helped us by pushing us all year. We believed we could come back even after losing some here and there. We just kept pulling out wins.'
Appropriately, the conference title hung in the balance in the Woodland finale against Pius on July 10. A victory would give Greenfield the outright crown and a loss would drop the Hawks into a tie with the Rockets.
Only three hits
Greenfield had only three hits in the game but benefitted from five Pius errors, plus some other miscues.
The Hawks put away the contest with four runs in the fifth inning. Bryce Laverdure and Kyle Holmes both reached on errors, then Marco Ostricki walked to load the bases with no outs.
Meyer singled in one run and Szalacinski drove in another on a groundout. Thomas brought in a third with a sacrifice fly and Meyer came home on a wild pitch.
'We took advantage of their mistakes,' Kleszczynski said, 'and we put balls in play to advance runners.'
Thomas was the winning pitcher, working 51/3 innings and striking out eight, while Szalacinski finished up the final 12/3 frames.
'(The victory) was a big relief,' the coach said. 'This gets the monkey off our backs. The kids earned it, and we were relieved to go out there and win that game.'
Greenfield split with Brown Deer earlier last week, losing 3-2 on July 8 and winning 5-2 on July 7.
Thomas went 2-for-3 with a run and RBI in the July 8 contest, while Meyer and Thomas combined to allow just five hits.
In the July 7 game, Rome went 2-for-3 with an RBI and Fularczyk pitched a solid six innings before Szalacinski finished.
'In the Brown Deer games, the guys were a little tight,' Kleszczynski said. 'When they saw that South Milwaukee lost to Shorewood (on July 8), they played much looser against Pius.'
Fell to Brookfield Central
Greenfield also lost a non-conference game to Brookfield Central by a 4-3 count on July 11. Jacob Schwartz went 2-for-2, Rome had two hits and two RBIs and Holmes added two hits.
Dominic Hagenkord and Adam Nischke combined to allow eight hits for the Hawks, who finished the regular season at 14-14.
They hosted New Berlin West in a WIAA regional game on July 15, and if they won, they would play at third seed Muskego (17-11) at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, July 18.
The regional winner plays at Greendale at 3 p.m. on Monday, July 21, in a sectional semifinal game.