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West De Pere comes from behind to defeat Pulaski

By Greg Bates

DE PERE – The 13 seniors on this year’s West De Pere baseball team didn’t want their season to end prematurely like last season.

But in order to stay alive in the postseason, the Phantoms needed a late-inning rally.

Trailing by five runs and down to its final four outs against Pulaski, West De Pere’s bats went to work.

Six batters collected hits in the sixth inning as West De Pere went from down 6-2 to up 7-6.

That would be the final score as No. 8-seeded West De Pere beat No. 9 Pulaski in a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 regional semifinal Tuesday, May 31, at Westwood Elementary School.

“When you get into the playoffs, it’s all about finding a way to win and survive,” West De Pere Head Coach Joe Rukamp said. “We’ve talked about it before, it might be the first inning that’s the big inning, it might be the sixth or seventh inning — you’ve got to play all 21 outs. We got a couple of good things to happen and hit a few balls hard. Baseball is a funny game, and suddenly, you start believing and good things happen.”

West De Pere junior Benjamin Hencke stepped up in relief and notched the win, getting the final nine outs.

West De Pere
Benjamin Hencke

He also hit an RBI triple to tie the game.

“It was a good win because last year didn’t turn out too well when we lost in the first round,” Hencke said. “This year, we didn’t want that to happen.”

Rukamp said he saw grit from his senior-laden squad, coming back from the four-run deficit.

“It says a lot about our group,” he said. “We have 13 seniors, and these guys want to stay together and keep competing. Like we told them, ‘Today’s the last guarantee in terms of playing together with all your buddies.’ So the goal is to stay together one day at a time and see how long we can do it.”

Both teams scratched out a pair of unearned runs, as the game was 2-2 after four innings.

Pulaski (8-15) started the fifth inning with a bang.

Jonah Klingeisen doubled, Logan Hochevar reached base on an error and Maxwell Burdette walked to load the bases.

West De Pere (15-10) pulled its starting pitcher Ethan Susa in favor of Christopher Coolidge.

Mason Petzel picked up an RBI on a walk, and Brayden Otto stroked a single to drive in Hochevar.

Hencke came in to pitch and struck out the first hitter he faced for the first out.

Kyle Olson was walked, scoring Burdette.

Leadoff hitter Michael Molthen grounded out, but Petzel trotted home to make it 6-2.

“That’s one of those innings you feel like you’ve got to find a way to get an out and build off that,” Rukamp said. “We were lucky we held them to only four runs that inning and gave ourselves a chance.”

In the bottom of the sixth inning, West De Pere’s Wyatt DeSmidt singled between a pair of outs.

Carter Schmitt laid down a bunt single, and Ethan Neuens laced a double to the right-field fence to drive in two runs.

Thomas Walder beat out an infield single, as courtesy runner Ryker Crooks scored.

With Hencke at the plate and a 3-2 count, he drove a pitch to the right-centerfield wall for a standup triple.

Walder came across to score the tying run, as the West De Pere dugout erupted.

Pulaski’s Klingeisen, a right-handed submarine-style pitcher, was in the game in relief.

“I was thinking it was going to come outside on me if it’s a fastball and a curveball might come back,” Hencke said. “I saw the fastball, so I took it where it was pitched, outside.”

Duke Shovald stepped to the plate next and beat out an infield hit as Hencke plated the go-ahead run.

“That was a fun inning,” Hencke said. “We had two outs and one runner on. It wasn’t looking good for us. Suddenly, a couple of singles, double, triple and we’re back in this game.”

Hencke retired the Pulaski hitters in order in the seventh as West De Pere celebrated a playoff victory.

First-year Pulaski Head Coach Tate McMillian said he was happy with his team’s effort.

“We pitched well enough to win,” he said. “The defense kind of let us down. We got a great effort out of our sophomore Kyle Olson and Jonah Klingeisen did just as good coming in, but we didn’t catch the ball for him. Credit to (West De Pere), they made us pay. They were more opportunistic than we were.”

The win for West De Pere sets up a showdown against No. 1-seeded Kimberly (19-5) Thursday, June 2, at Sunset Park in Kimberly.

The Papermakers, ranked No. 6 in Division 1 in the latest Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association poll, are a well-rounded squad.

“The good news is, I don’t think we’ve played our best game yet this year, and I think we’re capable of playing that and we might need to do that Thursday to beat them,” Rukamp said. “They’re a very good program. We’re going to have the attitude, ‘Why not?’ Why not go beat them on their home field and shock everybody? Nobody’s going to think we can win, so as long as we believe in it, we’ll see what happens.”

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