Merrill 10U All-Stars just miss title game

The Merrill Little League 10U All-Stars put everything on the line last Tuesday in their final round-robin game of the state tournament, and pulled out a super-solid 6-0 triumph over Appleton.
But results of games that unfolded earlier in the day conspired to essentially keep them from Wednesday’s championship bout.
The Merrill boys ended up in a four-way tie for first place in the event, but after the runs-allowed-per-inning tiebreaker was applied, they found themselves one spot out of the top two they craved. Merrill trailed Lakeland by a narrow margin at 1.143 to 1.069, and Waupun was second at .964. Appleton gave up just .846.
“They were disappointed, but they looked at it the same way as me, (coach) Jeff (Hintze), (coach) Tim (Anderson) and the parents looked at it,” Merrill manager Steve Kufahl said. “They were tied for first place at the state tournament. They wanted to play that one more game.”
And had they made it?
“I think we would have won,” Kufahl said. “I had a good group of pitchers good to go (with innings available), and these kids wanted it.”
As it was, Lakeland-the team that had edged Merrill 8-7 in the bottom of the sixth inning last Monday-met Waupun in the final. Waupun had defeated Merrill 11-1 on the previous Saturday, Merrill’s only let-down of the tourney.
Waupun did defeat Lakeland 10-7 in the title contest.
Lakeland lost 8-5 to Germantown-the other 3-2 team-and Waupun defeated Eau Claire 11-2 on Tuesday. The Lakeland loss helped but Merrill needed Eau Claire to knock off Waupun.
That meant Merrill’s only chance was an improbable exact 1-0 win over Appleton in eight innings.
“We found out during the game that it was impossible what we had to do,” Kufahl said. “How do you tell 10-year-old kids that they can’t score if they can. We blew it in the first inning because we already scored in the first.
“Before the game we were under the impression that we had to win big and shut them out. The kids knew we had a chance and they came fired up to play.”
Kufahl’s earlier statement concerning the parity of the competition was later proven true.
“All the teams were pretty evenly matched,” he said. “This Appleton team, after I watched two games, I saw they had the best defense there. They did allow the fewest runs, and they only won one game.
“On any given day, any of these teams could beat any of the other teams.”
Kufahl was more than a little surprised at the quality of play in the tournament.
“I seen some plays by 10-year-olds in the last week that you wouldn’t think a 10-year-old would have a chance of making,” he said.
“Quinn (Steckbauer) made a play in the last game that was a little foul ball down the left-field line. You knew the leftfielder and third-baseman weren’t going to get there, and all of a sudden out of nowhere Quinn comes charging through with the ball in his glove. I asked Jeff, ‘How’d he make that play.’ Jeff said, ‘I have no idea.’ “
Waupun had a couple of pitchers that were really good. The one that threw against us threw a change-up the right way. He didn’t slow up his arm, it was just the way he gripped the ball, and he threw it for strikes. He did it the whole tournament.”
The Merrill boys showed plenty of their own excellent pitching and Ryley Anderson came through in the finale against Appleton.
“Ryley, I can’t say enough about the way he pitched that game,” Kufahl said. “He pitched 5-1/3 innings, struck out nine guys and only gave up two hits and three walks.
“The Appleton game was as complete a game as the kids played, with only one error. They played good defense.
“These kids impressed me a lot. Since the time we started, they improved so much, and they don’t quit.”
Anderson helped his own cause with a first-inning double and Kordell Renken ripped a two-out double to drive him in.
Merrill made it 5-0 in the fourth inning, keyed by a Renken lead-off double, RBI singles by Kobe Blake and Zach Anderson, and a two-run triple from Steckbauer.
In the meantime, Riley Anderson set down all but two Appleton batters, hitting a batter in the third and allowing a fourth-inning single. Appleton loaded the bases in the fifth with a single, error and hit batter, but Anderson forced two grounders to end the chance.
Merrill worked small-ball for another run in the sixth. Travis Wright walked, advanced on a Chase Bonnell sacrifice and scored on Ben Spiegelhoff’s hit.
The local boys finished with seven hits and two walks.
Merrill had defeated Eau Claire 6-5 on Friday, July 29, and Germantown 15-8 two days later. Details of those games were reported in the August 3 issue of the Foto News.
It seems Merrill wasn’t going to prevail in the tiebreaker system. Had it been decided on runs scored, Waupun (41) and Germantown (40) would have qualified and Merrill (35) and Lakeland (35) would have been outside, looking in.
No matter that, Kufahl knows the experience was well worth it.
“The kids played some really good competition,” he said. “They seen the ups and downs and they came through them all.
“It’s an experience that I’ll never forget and I hope the kids never forget it. I think it will be with them forever.
“I believe this group of 10-year-olds will be down there again. If not as 12’s, then in their high school years they’ll be in the state tournament again.”

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