De Pere Legion wins state championship
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – Combining nine De Pere and nine more West De Pere players into one team equaled a Class AAA Legion State Championship Aug. 1 for De Pere Legion Baseball in Plover.
Behind the strong pitching of tournament MVP Ethan Susa and a sacrifice fly by Luke Brosig in the bottom of the fifth inning, De Pere bettered La Crosse 1-0 in the title game.
It was De Pere Legion’s fifth state title overall and first since 2008.
Field manager Dan Lukes quoted an all-time great when assessing his team’s title.
“John Wooden once said, ‘You don’t plan for championships, they just happen,’” Lukes, who won his fourth state title as the leader of the team, said. “That’s how I would best describe this one. I don’t want to say it was completely unexpected – because we had the talent to do it – but the question was, with the short season, did we have enough time to get everybody to gel and play at the level you need to win one of these? It took into the middle of the state tournament for that to happen.”
De Pere also won state titles came in 1999, 2003 and 2004.
Lukes was an assistant coach during the 1999 season.
“You want to be playing your best ball at the end of the year,” Lukes said. “By far, our best game of the year was Sunday (Aug. 1). To beat the pitcher from La Crosse, we needed to play a game with zero mistakes.”
Lukes said La Crosse’s pitcher, Dylan Lapic, was a lefty who was around the strike zone.
“He was tough – we only got two hits,” he said. “When you win a game with two hits, it puts lots of pressure on your pitching and defense. For a while, it looked like (Susa) was going to have to pitch a shutout to tie, but it turns out he had to pitch a shutout to win.”
Susa pitched all seven innings, scattering eight hits while striking out two and walking one.
In the decisive fifth for De Pere, Wyatt Fischer walked before Garrett Foth reached on a fielder’s choice bunt.
With Fischer erased at second on the play, Foth then stole second and advanced to third on an error by the La Crosse catcher.
Brosig’s sacrifice fly to right field then scored Foth with the only run of the game.
The victory in the title game for De Pere (19-7) avenged an earlier loss in the tournament to La Crosse (16-7).
“La Crosse hit a grand slam in that game, and we didn’t hit well there, either,” Lukes said about the earlier 6-2 loss to La Crosse. “That game was more us than them. The title game was two good pitchers going at it, and whoever blinked first would decide the game. We didn’t look at the title game as revenge, but everyone was glad we got another shot at them.”
Josh Brud had the only two hits for De Pere, which didn’t commit an error in the title game.
De Pere advanced to the Central Plains National Regional Tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D., and will play Renner, S.D., in the opening round Wednesday, Aug. 4.
“Based on the limited knowledge I have of the teams, we have as good a shot as anybody,” Lukes said. “It comes down to who plays the best and who makes the fewest mistakes. You can’t put too much pressure on your pitching with bad defense.”
The tournament consists of eight teams – two teams each from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin – and will use a double-elimination format.
With more sports specialization and travel teams, Legion baseball has seen a decrease in the number of teams in the past 30 years, something Lukes said is “unfortunate.”
“Our season this year was about a month long because the WIAA (Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association) pushed everything back (because of COVID-19),” he said. “Some of the younger guys are playing travel (ball), but the seniors who play travel, still come back to play Legion. Because of that, you still have good baseball.”
Lukes said the bigger issue in his mind is the specialization of athletes.
“That’s hurt Legion and the quality of all sports more than anything,” he said. “Thirty years ago, you still had everyone playing everything. That doesn’t happen so much anymore.”