The Milton High School baseball team was riding high last Tuesday afternoon.
The Red Hawks had just walked off against Janesville Parker in a thrilling one-run victory to move one game away from the state tournament.
Just a mere six hours later, for most of the Red Hawk players, it probably felt like the world was ending.
The Red Hawks finished just short of their first-ever state tournament berth on Tuesday, June 4, as Milton was defeated by Hamilton in the Oconomowoc Sectional Final, 6-3, at Roosevelt Park in Oconomowoc.
Earlier in the day, Milton defeated Janesville Parker, 4-3, to advance to the sectional final.
“It hurts right now,” Milton head coach Kris Agnew said after the sectional final defeat. “This is a group that put a lot of time and effort into it.
“Program-wise, we love the direction we’re going”
Milton 4, Janesville Parker 3
A sectional final appearance was not always a given for the Red Hawks, as they had to grind out a win over the Vikings.
Parker led 3-0 early, but Milton scored the final four runs of the game.
“They’re a resilient group,” Agnew said. “It’s kind of the way they’ve been all year.”
“We’re a family,” said freshman Keegan Knutson, who scored the game-winning run. “Everyday at practice we’re all joking around, but we know when we have to get serious, and that was serious when we got down.”
After a scoreless-first inning, Parker struck first with a pair of runs in the second.
Parker added another run in the top of the fifth to extend the lead to 3-0.
Up to the start of the bottom of the fifth, Milton was held without a hit.
Casey Stone, who pitched the Vikings to a win over the No. 1 ranked team in the state and crosstown rivals Janesville Craig in the regional final, was once again working his magic on the mound.
It wouldn’t be until the bottom of the fifth that the Red Hawks started to figure out Stone.
“I wouldn’t say we were nervous, but we’ve never really felt something like this [sectionals] before,” Knutson said. “I think after the first three innings, reality set in and we started playing our ball.”
Sophomore Charlie Terrill, batting out of the No. 8 spot and leading off the inning, singled to left field to break up the no-hit bid.
Freshman Jack Campion reached on an error to put runners on first and second.
Knutson connected on a perfectly executed bunt down the third-base line to load up the bases.
With still no outs in the inning, junior Colin Schuetz hit a ground ball to third base, but the throw sailed over the first baseman’s head, which scored both Terrill and Campion and put Schuetz at second.
Junior Ethan Haefner grounded out to second base the following at-bat, and Knutson, who was on third, made a dash for home.
It appeared Knutson had safely slid under the tag to tie the game, but was called out instead.
With Schuetz still on second, sophomore Luke Hessenauer poped out to end the inning.
In the bottom of the sixth, still down 3-2, senior Caleb Dammen started off the inning with a double. Junior Fletcher Terrill moved him to third with a ground out and senior Bailey Nickel drove in Dammen with a sacrifice fly to center field.
It would be the only run Parker would give up in the inning.
Milton starting pitcher and sophomore Evan Jackson got in some trouble in the bottom of the seventh, as he put runners on first and second with one out, but the left-handed Haefner came in to record the final two outs.
Knutson drew a walk on the first plate appearance of the bottom of the seventh and Schuetz moved him over to second with a sacrifice.
Knutson stole third and on the fourth pitch of Haefner’s at-bat, the ball got past the Parker catcher and Knutson sprinted home safely and was shortly after mobbed by his teammates.
“It just kept rolling and I was going,” Knutson said.
Jackson pitched well in his second playoff appearance, allowing just one earned run in 6.1 innings.
Jackson starting and Haefner closing was the same one-two punch used in Milton’s 8-1 win over Arrowhead in the regional final.
“That’s our formula,” Agnew said. “Evan did a great job.”
Hamilton 6, Milton 3
Just like how Parker did to Milton in the first game, the Red Hawks jumped out to a 3-0 lead against Hamilton.
“We came out hot, obviously,” Agnew said. “Had good at-bats, we were ready to play.”
Fletcher Terrill and Dammen both recorded an RBI in the first to put the Red Hawks up 2-0 after a half inning.
In the top of the third, Nickel singled in Hessenauer to grow the lead to 3-0.
Despite starting Milton pitcher Fletcher Terrill having a no-hitter going, Hamilton scored its first run of the game in the bottom of the third thanks to a walk and an error.
The Chargers got their first hit in the bottom of the fifth with the Red Hawks still up 3-1.
The hit got the bats going for Hamilton, who tied the game at 3-3 with two runs in the inning.
“I think later on in the game they made an adjustment, they started getting the barrel to him [Terrill], hitting him a little bit more.”
In the bottom of the sixth, an RBI single and a costly error that scored two gave Hamilton a 6-3 lead.
Milton went down in order in the top of the seventh to end the game and their state-tournament hopes.
Agnew wanted a culture shift starting this season, and that’s exactly what he got. The Red Hawks won their first-ever share of the Badger South Conference and were crowned regional champions for the first time since 2012.
“Just an awesome group of kids, on all levels,” Agnew said. “Loved coaching these guys and excited for them to come back next year and compete again.”