Their undershirts stained with perspiration and their eye black smudged from beads of sweat, the Monona Braves felt a major sense of accomplishment Sunday as players walked off the field with an 8-5 win over Cottage Grove in their regular season final game played in the sweltering heat.
Monona not only made up for a 7-6 defeat to the Firemen last month, the team also solidified the No. 2 position in the Eastern Section playoffs, which begin Sunday against visiting Montello.
The Braves have consistently made the playoffs for better than two decades. Manager Vince Schmitz had said all along he didn’t want to be the one in charge when that fantastic streak comes to an end.
His team made sure of that, although the job wasn’t easy against Cottage Grove, which was eliminated from the playoffs weeks earlier and playing for pride.
“That is always our goal at the beginning of the season: to make the playoffs,” said Schmitz, who is completing his fourth year as team manager. “Our second goal now is reaching the final four.”
Monona scored two runs in the first inning off Firemen starter Paul Patten as Kody Parman galloped home after a Cottage Grove throwing error during an attempted steal by Taylor Carlson. Carlson later scored on a groundout by Beau Goff.
The Firemen rallied for four runs in the third inning as Graham Schroeder-Gasser and Patten both had RBI singles, Donnie Bryant blasted a run-scoring double and Anthony Bortz scored another with a sacrifice fly.
After starting pitcher Dan Genrich singled to drive a run in the fourth, the Braves took the lead for good in the fifth inning as Parman led off with a single, Kian O’Brien walked and Carlson drove home both runners with a double. Two outs later, Schmitz doubled to give Monona a 6-4 lead.
Cottage Grove catcher Jacob Cates got one of those runs back with an RBI single in the sixth, a seventh inning RBI base hit by Tony Raffel and another Carlson double in the eighth gave the Braves an 8-5 lead.
Genrich earned the win after allowing 10 hits with five strikeouts and a walk in six innings. Corey Schmidt had two strikeouts and two walks in two innings of relief, and Andy Swanson had a three-up, three-down inning in the ninth.
Patten, normally an infielder for the Firemen, gave up seven earned runs on 10 hits in eight innings with four strikeouts and four walks. Cates said Patten’s slider was working well in the early innings and Monona was not able to get around on those pitches.
“We needed an arm and he stepped up,” Cates said. “He was throwing strikes and really helping out the team.”
Patten, who led the Firemen offense with three hits including a double, said he was happy to help due to a shortage of available pitchers. Starter Al Dimmig was saved for Thursday’s Home Talent Night League playoff game and Cottage Grove’s other starter Daniel Karlin-Kamin threw two days earlier in the Firemen’s win over Rio.
“It takes a while to get used to it (vs. playing the infield),” said Patten, who said he normally pitches one game a year when needed.
Schmitz pounded three hits for the Braves including two doubles.
The Braves, which ended the regular season at 11-5, host the Granite-Jaxx 1 p.m. Sunday at Ahuska Park.
Cottage Grove finished the 2019 season at 7-9.