The Oak Creek baseball team’s intense rivalry with neighboring Franklin is full of moments that leaves one side wiping its foreheads in relief while the other is howling in disbelief.
Such a moment occurred Thursday night in the second inning at Kapco Park in Mequon in the Knights’ 8-5 Greater Metro Conference tournament title victory over the Sabers.
Oak Creek had fallen behind the Sabers 2-1 after the first inning, but had two on with two out in the second when junior outfielder Jackson Wagner hit a high pop up that floated on a stiff breeze on the infield near the first base line.
Wagner describes what happened next.
“It wasn’t the way I wanted to hit it so I just put my head down and made sure I was running as fast I could so I could get to first or second in case something happened,” he said.
That it did.
“It (the ball) hit me in the shoulder first and then bounced up and hit me in the head,” said Wagner. “I’m guessing it hit off his (the fielder’s) glove. …When it’s hit that high up in the air, strange things happen.”
Wagner got around the confused Franklin fielders as the ball bounced into foul territory. Both runners on base scored for a 3-2 Oak Creek lead as Wagner wound up on second.
Sabers coach Jim Hughes came out to protest as the umpires conferred and eventually ruled that there was no interference and that the ball hit the fielder’s glove first.
That play opened the floodgates for the Knights (26-3 overall), as six two-out unearned runs would subsequently come across to score.
It wasn’t pretty to watch if you were a Franklin fan.
Oak Creek leadoff man Matt Kasar hit a nubber on the infield, but the catcher’s throw to first went wild, allowing Wagner to score.
After an intentional walk to all-state infielder Alex Binelas things really unraveled for the Sabers. An errant pickoff throw allowed Binelas to move all the way to third and he eventually scored on a wild pitch. Ben Stanke added an RBI single and Luke Posig later punched a booming RBI triple.
The Knights left the inning with a 7-2 lead and they then cruised to the victory. It marked the second straight year they had won both the GMC regular season and tournament titles.
Veteran Knights coach Scott Holler said he’s going to remember that play for awhile.
“I was watching the runner (not really paying attention to the pop-up),” he said, “and then I look back and arms are flailing and people are yelling. So I figured I’d just the umpires figure that one out. …I t was just fortunate that it worked out in our favor.
“Obviously, as you guys know, this is a game of catching some breaks every once in awhile.”
The tournament title gives Oak Creek a huge amount of momentum as it heads into the WIAA sectional as the top seed. Tourney play will begin with regional action on Tuesday, June 11. The WIAA state tournament is back at Kapco Park on July 21.
Oak Creek’s win over Franklin gives the Knights a 2-1 edge in the rivalry so far this season and avenges an 8-2 loss from July 1. The pair could meet again for a fourth time in the sectional final on Monday, July 17 as Franklin (22-6) is the second seed in the sectional.
And no doubt, that game would likely have just as interesting a turn of events.
Following the chaotic second, things calmed down for a time. The Sabers, who had taken a first inning lead on two out RBI singles from Nathan Aide and Jake Monfre, closed the gap to 7-3 in the top of the third with a run-scoring double Aaron Simmons.
But the Knights tightened things up as a linedrive to third turned into an inning ending doubleplay.
Two innings later, Franklin threatened again off of Oak Creek starter and eventual winner Dylan Fluegal. Holler turned to senior Alex Behr to put the fire out and he succeeded, inducing a 4-6-3 doubleplay that all but eliminated a first and second, none out jam.
Behr admitted that he’s “lower level conference game kind of pitcher”, but was pleased that Holler had the trust in him in a tough situation.
“I showed him that I could compete,” said Behr. “My job is to come in and get a groundball. It took a nice easy hop and Kasar (the second baseman) and Binelas (at short) have been great at turning those things (doubleplays) all season.
“I knew the way we’ve been hitting all year that we would come back.”
Behr cruised into the seventh inning. The final score was deceptive as two runs scored in that frame as a result of a misplayed two-out flyball. A flyout to left finally ended the game and gave the Knights their title.
Wagner said the combination of talent and karma has been something working in the Knights’ favor all season.
“Whenever we get a break, it’s always key for our team,” he said. “We have so many great players who worked hard all off-season like Alex (Binelas) who’s going to Louisville (on a DI scholarship) but we’ve got all the other people that work hard in the offseason as well.
“Whenever we get a chance, we take it.”
“It’s great to be part of this program every year,” he said. “We always seem to have a great group of guys who come in and do this every season.”
Holler, who said he likes the tournament format and the energy that it provides, said the Knights had selfish reasons for winning tonight.
“The tourney is special, because teams that didn’t win the regular season title can come in and win it and say they’re conference champions too,” he said. “We’ve proved ourselves through the long haul (of the conference regular season) and we don’t like the idea of another team coming in and trying to steal what’s ours.
“We don’t want anybody else saying their conference champions just because they won three games (in the tournament). We don’t want to share.
“We take that personally.”