As the McFarland High School baseball team prepared for its WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal game June 4 in Baraboo, it knew its opponent, the Elkhorn Elks, had a very efficient, hard-throwing starting pitcher.
According to statistics by Game Changer, sophomore Austin Bestul allowed only 43 hits in 56 innings pitched with 70 strikeouts and 23 walks. His ERA was under two runs per outing.
Yet, the Spartans quickly jumped on Bestul with two runs in the first inning and came away with a 7-4 win.
“We knew the pitcher was very good, so we had the pitching machine throwing hard at practice,” McFarland head coach John Feldner said. “We had great scouting reports and knew what they liked to do. We were pretty comfortable going in.”
Spartan leadoff hitter Carson Wienke reached base on an error as did Cam Schaaf on a catcher’s interference call by the plate umpire to put runners on first and second. After Wienke was retired at third base on a fielder’s choice by Reece Samuel, Xavier Schreiber pounded a two-run double to give McFarland the early lead.
Austin Miller kept the rally going with a single to put runners on first and third with one out. Adam Hoveland lofted a fly ball that was caught by the center fielder. Schreiber tagged up at third but was out at the plate trying to score.
Elkhorn scored runs in the first and third innings to tie the game 2-2, but the Spartans rallied for three runs in the fifth.
Samuel led off by reaching first on an infield throwing error, and raced home on Schreiber’s second double of the day. Miller followed with a bunt single, and Hoveland’s base hit drove home the second run of the inning for a 4-2 McFarland lead. The Spartans added another run after Carson Werwinski grounded into a fielder’s choice.
The Elks pulled within 5-4 in the bottom of the fifth as two doubles and a single produced two runs. After a ground rule double put Elkhorn runners on second and third, the next hitter was intentionally walked to the load the bases with nobody out. The strategy worked as the Elkhorn batter grounded into a pitcher to catcher to first base double play. The next batter for Elks flew out to center field to end the inning.
With its lead cut to one, McFarland got some needed insurance runs in the sixth and seventh innings.
Schaaf led off the sixth with a double and later scored on Schreiber’s sacrifice fly.
In the seventh, Gabe Roderick drew a one-out walk, stole second and ran home on an opposite field bloop single by starting pitcher Jeremiah Price-Johnson.
Elkhorn threatened in the seventh as Price-Johnson hit a batter with one out, but right fielder Werwinski made a spectacular catch on a sinking line drive for the second out.
Price-Johnson then yielded a single to put Elkhorn runners on first and second but got the third out on a fly to center field.
Schreiber drove in four runs with two hits in two at-bats, a walk and a run scored.
“They were mixing in some curve balls, but I was just hitting fast balls all the time and trying to drive it,” he said.
Price-Johnson had three of McFarland’s 11 hits and Miller and Wienke each had two.
Price-Johnson threw 86 pitches to earn the victory. He allowed four earned runs and 10 hits in seven innings with one strikeout and one walk.