Give Pewaukee junior Steve McGowan a baseball on the mound and a bat on his shoulder, and he'll do the rest – at least this time.
The third-seeded Pirates (23-9) took advantage of a brilliant performance from McGowan to down No. 11 Waukesha West (10-22), in a 5-1 win Friday night at WCTC Field in Pewaukee. The Pirates advance to the WIAA Division 1 sectional to face No. 2 Brookfield Central (25-6) at 3 p.m. Monday at Waukesha West.
Pewaukee is used to McGowan's dominance on the mound – he came into Friday's regional final against Waukesha West without surrendering an earned run in his last 27 innings – but he'd also struggled at the plate for the better part of a month.
Not tonight. Amidst a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the fourth inning, McGowan crushed an offering from West's Ian Howden to right center. After a brief commotion caused by West's center fielder raising his arms to signal for a ground rule double, umpires gathered and ruled it a fence-clearing home run.
The dinger also brought Zach Brennan home and gave the Pirates a 3-1 lead. Pewaukee led off the fourth inning with a hit from Jordan Hass, whom Matt Fritchen drove in.
"I have no idea if it went over or not," McGowan said. "I just got a good pitch to hit and started running as fast as I could. I didn't watch it, I was all the way to third when they said it was gone."
Pewaukee head coach Adam Dobberstein had a similar stance.
"I have no idea," Dobberstein said. "It's not like we have a four-foot fence out here, though. I don't know if I've ever seen one bounce over the fence here. It's a really tough call for an umpire to make."
West's bench disagreed with the call vehemently, but the controversial call was moot in the end. After allowing an RBI double from West junior designated hitter Ben Rieckhoff that scored Mike Balistreri in the second inning, McGowan settled in for a scoreless final five frames.
"Steve is probably the most composed high school pitcher that I've had," Dobberstein said. "He had 27 innings going, and he gave up one tonight, but look at the scoreboard and there are still six zeroes. He didn't walk anybody tonight. It's amazing. He really doesn't walk anybody. He's not a guy who throws 87 and puts it by you, but he just gets guys out."
McGowan said his demeanor on the mound is a part of his personality.
"Being relaxed kind of comes naturally to me," he said, "but it's still something you try to focus on. If you get upset or frustrated when something goes wrong, it can start to kind of snowball, and then all sorts of bad things can happen."
In the bottom of the sixth, Pewaukee kept hammering away after McGowan walked and Garrett Shibilski reached on the Wolverines' fourth error. Brandon Knoke came through with a two-out, two-RBI single to score both runners and give the Pirates a four-run cushion.
"It's tough to win at this point of this season making those kinds of mistakes," West head coach Chad Montez said. "They're a great team, and it doesn't help when you give them extra outs."
McGowan went out in style with a three-up, three-down seventh. He finished by getting Rieckhoff, who doubled in each of his two previous at bats, to ground out.
"It definitely felt good to end that way," McGowan said. "He'd given me a little trouble. The one he hit probably went farther than mine, he just hit it to dead center."
Dobberstein noted only one player on the roster has previously played in a sectional, a telling sign of a program on the rise.
"It's special," he said. "It's fun when you're doing it with a great group of kids who've worked really hard."
As far as McGowan is concerned, the Pirates are just getting started.
"I definitely think we can win a state championship with this team," he said. "If we keep working hard and playing together, we can go far."
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