It wasn’t quite the storybook ending the Waunakee baseball team was hoping for.
In a fierce pitcher’s duel, the Warriors fell to the Verona Wildcats in 11 innings in their postseason opener on Thursday.
Getting the start on the mound, Nick Smith was as dominant as ever against the Wildcats.
After allowing a double on the game’s first at-bat, Smith quickly recovered and went to work. He didn’t allow another hit until the fourth inning, and Waunakee’s defense picked up the slack from there, recording a double play on the next at-bat to keep Verona scoreless.
Smith’s Verona counterpart – Reagan Klawiter – didn’t back down from the challenge. He kept Waunakee’s batters in check into the seventh inning.
“The pitchers on both teams were fantastic,” said Waunakee’s Head Coach Spencer Lee. “There was a lot of really good defense out there.
The Warriors’ best chance for a score came in the fifth inning, when a pair of Verona errors sandwiching a sacrifice bunt put Cade Hottman on third and Ryne Fueger on first with only one out. Unfortunately, Waunakee’s next two batters couldn’t bring either runner home, and the game remained scoreless.
Klawiter hit his pitch limit in the sixth inning having surrendered zero hits with seven strikeouts. One inning later, Smith hit his pitch limit for the Warriors; he allowed only two hits and struck out 10 batters in seven and two third innings.
Dixon replaced Smith in the eighth inning and picked up right where Waunakee’s ace left off, keeping the Wildcats scoreless through the eighth, ninth and 10th innings.
In a batter on first the top of the 11th, Verona finally caught a break by hitting a deep shot to center field that scored the first and only run of the game.
A Waunakee rally looked to be brewing in the bottom as Taiten Manriquez drew a leadoff walk, but the rally was quickly halted with a double play in the next at-bat. The rally ended completely with a strikeout the next at bat, putting a premature end to Waunakee’s season.
“That’s a tough loss,” said Lee. “That’s one of the toughest losses I can remember having in 23 years.”
Manriquez recorded the lone hit for the Warriors and also reached base twice on walks.
“I’m really proud of this group of guys for battling and fighting and scratching and clawing for 11 innings…” added Lee “We had a lot of good at bats; we just couldn’t get anything to fall.”
The loss gives Waunakee a final record of 19-6 in 2019. The Warriors will have some big shoes to fill in 2020 with the departure of five seniors from this group, including three – Nate Stevens, Dane Luebke and Ryne Fueger – who earned all-conference recognition.
“What I’m going to remember about those guys most is not only being really good players, but just good guys…” said Lee of this year’s seniors. “They’re great teammates; they provided leadership.”