Here is a recipe for winning a state baseball championship:
- Have on your roster a pitcher who will be playing for an NCAA Division I baseball team next season.
- Have an overwhelming offense.
- Have the two state games on the same day instead of their original schedule.
- Make sure my oldest son goes to the game.
Two servings of item 1 and items 3 and 4 were part of the formula for Ripon’s 2000 state championship, the first sporting event Michael attended, at one month old. (He says he doesn’t remember it.) The 2000 team had two Division I pitchers, Dan Konecny, who went to Northwestern, and Jed Dolske, who went to UW–Milwaukee.
The four menu items — with Michael accompanied by younger brother Dylan — were the formula for Ripon’s 2011 state championship, particularly the second item. Ripon scored 60 runs in its six postseason games — 19 in their two regional games, 21 in their two sectional games, and 20 in their two state games. The Tigers’ margin of victory in their six playoff games was, in order, three, seven, five, six, eight and 10 runs. The margin of victory is not supposed to expand as a team goes deeper in the playoffs and plays theoretically better teams. To win a state championship game through the 10-run rule should be practically impossible given that the four theoretically best teams in a division are at state. And yet Ripon’s state championship win over Spooner 12–2 ended after six innings, and with a couple of sixth-inning hits, could have ended early in the 8–0 semifinal win over Green Bay Notre Dame as well.
I was not in Ripon in 1988 to see Scott Young’s Mad Dash home from second base on a passed ball in the Tigers’ 5–4 Class B championship win over Kimberly. (Frank Bush’s call on WCWC radio ended with “He’s gonna run, he’s gonna run, he’s gonna score!” And then partner Bob Lukoski had to tell the world that Ripon had won state because Frank was, for one of the few times in his life, speechless.) I was in Ripon in 2000 to see the 3–2 eight-inning win over Whitewater and the 8–5 win over Park Falls to win the 2000 Division 2 title.
Perhaps because I saw the 2000 team, I was a bit pessimistic about the Tigers’ chances of getting to state, particularly after their 9–6 regional semifinal win over Winneconne. (Perhaps the Wolves will consider themselves the second best team in Division 2 given that they got the closest anyone got to beating Ripon in the playoffs.) Jordan Jess, who will pitch for Minnesota next season, hadn’t seemed to have pitched all that well in his two postseason games, and the Tigers have had some defensive adventures this season. And of course offensive production should drop as teams go farther in the postseason and face theoretically better pitching.
Perhaps it was that the weather finally stopped sucking in the postseason. Perhaps the postseason schedule is more conducive to quality play than the regular season. (The Tigers played no games between April 18 and April 29, then played four games between April 30 and May 6, then played one game May 11, then played five games between May 18 and May 24.) More likely, this shows what I know about pitching, which, to quote the old baseball phrase, is only that I can’t hit it.
The Notre Dame win occurred not Wednesday night as originally scheduled, but Thursday morning thanks to Wednesday’s rains. (Note to the WIAA: Scheduling six games in one day works only if (1) the weather cooperates and (2) there are no long or extra-inning games. Wednesday’s originally scheduled semifinal would have started after 11 p.m. had the WIAA not decided to reschedule.)
Jess was a bit discombobulated, discovering upon his arrival at Fox Cities Stadium that he had left his short-sleeve shirt at the hotel, according to Fox Sports Wisconsin. But Jess could have pitched in anything from his pajamas to a tuxedo and would have won Thursday. He was basically two feet (the distance away from second baseman Ben Pulvermacher where the only base hit Jess gave up went) away from throwing a state tournament no-hitter. He had to settle, if you want to call it that, for a one-hit shutout, walking three and getting 13 of the game’s 21 outs via strikeout.
I watched the game on FoxSportsWisconsin.com, and Jess looked unhittable to me, with the diagonal break of his pitches from the top of one side of the plate to the bottom of the opposite side of the plate. It’s one thing to try to hit a ball when you know where it’s going and the question is how fast it will get there; it’s quite another to try to hit a ball that is on the wrong plane when you swing at it. Assuming he doesn’t suffer injuries or have a Steve Blass-like allergy to throwing strikes, he’ll be pitching in some league somewhere into his 50s.
State championship games are won by whichever team has the best number two pitcher, since coaches usually throw their top pitchers in the semifinal under the theory that if you don’t win the semifinal you’re not going to get to throw your top pitcher in the championship. Polcyn’s six-inning pitching line — four hits, one earned run, no walks, seven strikeouts — makes one think that maybe Division I teams might want to take a late look at him too.
On offense, the state tournament was, believe it or not, a marvel of offensive efficiency. Ripon scored eight in the semifinal and left four runners on base. Ripon scored 12 in the championship game and left three runners on base. Ripon hit into one double play on the day. Every offensive starter had at least one hit or scored at least one run or drove in at least one run. In a stadium not particularly friendly to home run hitters (the power alleys go 385 and 405 feet), Ripon hit three home runs. And keep this factoid in mind: A freshman, Peyton Bryden, had three hits and two RBI in the two state games.
The Tigers to be most pleased for are the four senior starters — Jess, Polcyn, Jesse Ehrenberg and Ben Wetzel. They have played football, basketball and, along with senior Brady Bauman, high school and American Legion baseball together. They were the second best American Legion Class A baseball team in the nation in 2009. At state, they were a collective 15-of-29 with 13 runs (two by Jess’ semifinal courtesy runner, Kyle Minch) scored and 11 batted in. And on the mound, Jess and Polcyn gave up one earned run in 13 innings, combining for 20 strikeouts against three walks. Think they wanted a gold trophy?
Talent, of course, goes only so far. Coach Dan Jonas now is half of the Two State Title Coaching Club with former football coach Rick Kelm. Jonas sounded Thursday night as if he considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth to work with this team. Assistant coach Howard Hansen is switching gears to co-coach American Legion baseball starting this weekend with a team that, with additions from sectional finalist Green Lake, might be considered to be a favorite in Class A. (Which is as brilliant an observation as saying that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.) Teams do not put trophies in trophy cases without quality talent and coaching. And state championship trophies take up a lot of space in trophy cases.
Since 2000, the Tigers have won two state football titles, two state high school baseball titles, one American Legion state baseball title and one state track title, plus one state individual wrestling championship (Blake Roemer in 2005). If you like high school sports, this would seem to be a good time to live in Ripon.