After losing its first game in the Land O'Lakes Grand Championship baseball playoffs two weeks ago to host Cedarburg, the Western Division champion Pewaukee Muskies had their backs to the wall in the prestigious double elimination tournament. But the second loss — the one that would end dreams of the 2013 baseball crown — hasn't come to pass.
That loss appeared to be a wake-up call for the Muskies. They've won three straight playoff battles while playing arguably their best baseball of the season.
Last Saturday and Sunday, Pewaukee came up huge with their backs to the wall. First, it handed previously undefeated Burlington (North Division) a 5-1 setback and then kept rolling Sunday by avenging that earlier loss to Cedarburg and eliminating them at Sussex, 8-4.
With just two teams left both having one loss, the Grand Championship title will be determined in Sussex on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. when the Muskies host Burlington. This will be Pewaukee's third appearance in team history in the finals of the Grand Championship playoffs.
"The guys are playing very good baseball right now at a high level," said Muskies manager Mike Wichser. "When we lost that first game, it put us in a hole, but the guys have played well. Our pitching has been outstanding and we're hitting right now probably as good as we have all season. Hopefully, we can finish things off on Saturday."
Pewaukee is playing their Grand Championship home games at Sussex this year because Pewaukee Village Park is undergoing an improvement project. The Muskies are a perfect 5-0 at Sussex this season.
Muskies down Burlington
On Saturday, Pewaukee handed Burlington its first playoff loss. The Muskies got a solid pitching performance from right-hander Eric Schmitz, as he tossed an eight-hitter and allowed just one run. Schmitz struck out a playoff-best 10 batters. He had no walks in the game.
"Eric pitched a great game for us, and our defense made the plays behind him," Wichser said. "Eric had good command and came up with a big performance when we needed one. He pitched a near-perfect game for us."
Pewaukee scored two runs in the first and third innings and then added a solo tally in the sixth. Burlington's lone run scored in the fourth.
Muskies shortstop Nick Wichser continued his red-hot hitting, belting a two-run home run in the top of the first inning. John Sarcia reached on a fielder's choice and scored when Wichser belted his third playoff homer.
In the third, Brock Guetzke doubled home Wichser, who had walked, and Guetzke scored when catcher Tim Mertins hit a sacrifice fly. The final run scored when Mertins doubled and came home on a sacrifice fly by center fielder Brandon Werner.
Pewaukee finished with 10 hits. Guetzke had three of those, and Kurt Sarcia and Wichser had two each.
Brian Henschel was the starting pitcher for the Barons and worked six innings, giving up five runs and eight hits. Henschel also had two hits before leaving the game with an injury.
Pewaukee stops Mercs
On Sunday, Pewaukee ended the Cedarburg season with a four-run win.
Once again, the Muskies got strong pitching as Guetzke held the Mercs to four runs on eight hits. He struck out 11. Zach Lauterbach, the winner in the first game against Pewaukee, went the distance and suffered the loss. Pewaukee finished with 13 hits.
After scoring two runs in the first and two more in the fifth for a 4-1 lead, Pewaukee watched Cedarburg get back into contention with a two-out, two-run double in the seventh.
But Pewaukee didn't sit on that narrow edge. They scored two runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth to put the game away.
Mertins delivered a two-run double in the fifth inning and then clubbed a decisive two-run homer in the seventh. Greg Harder was hit by a pitch with two outs before Mertins unloaded his biggest LOL hit ever.
"Tim has really played well for us," the Pewaukee manager said. "He made an ESPN (caliber) highlight play two weeks ago (at catcher) and also has been contributing at the plate. We've got a lot of guys making this work. That's been a big key for us."
Guetzke had three hits to lead the Muskies, making him 6 for 10 for the weekend. Wichser, Harder and Mertins added two hits each for the Muskies.
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