Merrill boys upset Hudson, but come up short of Point

The Bluejay baseball team trekked across the state to win its playoff opening game with Hudson 4-3 last Tuesday, but the season ended much closer to home in Friday’s 5-2 defeat at SPASH.
“On any given day, if we could put it all together, we could compete with anybody,” MHS coach Brian Artac said. “We could have beat Point. They just edged us. We needed a little break here or there. We had runners in scoring position, we just needed that clutch hit.
“They made three double plays and all of them that hurt us just like they helped us against Hudson.”
Point scored once in the first with help from an error, but Merrill grabbed a 2-1 lead in the 3rd after two outs. Kyle Kubichek walked, stole second and scored on Alex Cordova’s hit. Cordova had moved up on a misplay of his hit, and Dylan Burkam singled him home.
But SPASH regained a 3-2 edge in the bottom of the 3rd behind two hits, a walk and a fielder’s choice RBI.
Merrill had runners on the corners with one out with Michael Koppelman and Jordan Burton singles wrapped around a Matt Woller sacrifice, but a 6-4-3 DP killed the chance. The Jays managed just two more hits after that and never threatened again, although Burkam singled in the 6th and a smash liner by Koppelman turned into an F6-3 double play.
Point would tack on a pair in the 5th with three hits, including a Bobby Gregorich triple, and a walk.
Luke Golisch (6 H, 5 W, 4 K, 5 R, 4 ER in 4-1/3 I) took the loss and Burkam (1 W, 1 K in 1-2/3 I) relieved.
Burkam (2-2) helped Merrill reach 6 hits.
Go west, young men
In Merrill’s loaded sectional bracket, a 10-10 record was only good for an 11 seed, and that matched the Jays up with 6th-seeded Hudson.
“It’s very true that to win big games, you have to make big plays,” Artac said.
“I told people we were going to Gilligan’s Island… it’s a three-hour tour. If we had lost, that would have been a long bus ride home.”
At least it was worth the trip, due to a four-run rally after two outs in the 6th inning with the Jays trailing 1-0. Cordova had walked and stolen second base, and Luke Golisch singled him home. After a Koppelman hit, Woller singled home courtesy runner David Pophal and Burton hit an RBI single to score pinch runner Jake Hintze.
“There was a play at the plate and, boom, boom, he was safe,” Artac said.
Merrill made it 4-1 with a classic double steal, with Burton pulling safely into second and Woller racing home as the catcher committed to the throw.
The inning could have been bigger because after Burton stole second, Kyle Rajek walked and Jack Osness hit a grounder to the hole between short and third.
“The third-baseman goes to tag Burton and he’s 8 inches from tagging him, so he turns to throw to first base, but it’s too late,” said Artac, who was standing near the play while coaching third base. “But the ump rings (Burton) up.”
Hudson got a pair back in the bottom of the 6th and also threatened more, but a 1-2-3 double play ended it. A 5th-inning 2-6-5-6 pick off at second started by Golisch also played an important role.
“They hit an RBI single to center, but Kubi made a nice throw to hold a guy at third,” Artac siad. “Then (pitcher) Burkam made a big play on the come-backer.”
The Jays loaded the bass in the seventh with a Cordova double, a Burkam single and Koppelman walk, but were unable to score. It didn’t matter after Burkam never let the ball out of the infield in the bottom of the frame.
Burkam (7 H, 2 W, 5 K, 3 ER in 7 I) picked up the complete-game win. Woller (2-4, 2 SB), Cordova (1-2, 2B, 2 W), Burton (1-2, 2 SB) led the Jays offensively. Brett Steinwegner (7 H, 6 W, 10 K, 4 R in 6-1/3 I) lost.
The SPASH loss capped off the season.
“We came a long way since the beginning of the year,” Artac said. “We went through a lot of growing pains because we had a lot of seniors that hadn’t played much varsity.
“When we beat Hudson we were 12-11. I’d like to be 13-11 and still playing, but reality hits. Going into Friday, all the Valley teams were still alive.”
The two that were eliminated Friday, Merrill and D.C. Everest, were facing WVC opponents in SPASH and Wausau West.
But Artac had a final thought. “We’ll see how the kids are in 10 years when we’re judging whether this season was a success or not,” he said. “That’s really true.”

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