VerVelde, Peterson carry Panthers to opening victory
Greg Bates Times Herald Correspondent
The last time the Oconto Falls and Seymour baseball teams squared off was with a regional title on the line.
Second-seeded Oconto Falls knocked off No. 1-seeded Seymour 7-6 as the Panthers advanced to sectionals last June. That game was 10 months ago, and a lot has changed on both sides.
The two teams met in the season opener on March 31 in Seymour. The young Oconto Falls team used a two-out, two-run rally to help down Seymour, 4-2, in a nonconference game.
Oconto Falls and Seymour nearly have entirely different teams from a season ago.
“We’ve got three seniors, that’s it,” Oconto Falls coach Charlie Rochon said. “Only two of them played regularly last year. It’s a fun group to be with. I still don’t know what to expect — this is our second day outside. Everything is new.”
Since his guys hadn’t been able to compete outside the gym, Rochon hadn’t gotten a good look at his pitchers. The longtime coach threw six pitchers against Seymour and liked what he saw.
“We had them throw in the cage, but that does not give you a true indication,” Rochon said. “We decided to see what we’ve got. They, for the most part threw strikes. We got a little help, they made a few errors, mental-type errors that helped us out.”
Rochon opted for his ace, Mason Sefcik, to start the opener, and the junior went two innings. The next five pitchers – Cliff Yuma, Jason Moeller, Michael LeVeille, Sam Virtues and Tyler Mielke – all lasted one inning.
Seymour scratched out eight hits, including three doubles, but stranded 10 runners. Six of those runners were left in scoring position. The Oconto Falls pitchers came up big.
“They came through and made the plays when they needed to,” Rochon said.
Seymour coach Curt Jefson said he didn’t do some things he is accustomed to doing in regular-season games.
“I wanted to get a feel for how some the guys reacted with guys on base,” Jefson said. “I might have bunted in different times, but today I let them swing away and see what happens. We had some good at-bats, and their pitchers had some good pitches. That’s baseball.”
It was the top of Oconto Falls’ lineup that made the difference. The first five hitters collected eight of the team’s 11 hits and reached base 11 times in 20 at-bats.
Leadoff hitter Michael VerVelde had three hits, got on base via an error in his other plate appearance, scored three times and stole four bases.
Bryce Peterson, in the No. 2 slot, got one hit, one walk and two RBIs.
“They’ve got wonderful baseball knowledge and they’ve got wonderful baseball instincts,” Rochon said. “They make some things happen when you kind of go, ‘No. … OK, go.’ And they’re wonderful at that. They do a nice job.”
Sefcik threw two innings, 31 pitches, and gave up two hits before giving way to Yuma.
VerVelde opened the third inning with an infield single and stole both second and third bases. Peterson grounded out but scored VerVelde for the game’s first run.
Seymour quickly answered in its half of the third. Bryce VerVoort reached base on an infield single and came around to score on an error.
Oconto Falls took the lead back in the fifth as VerVelde laced a one-out single to left-center. Peterson followed with a walk, and designated hitter Dalton Curl drove in VerVelde with a single to make it 2-1. The Panthers, who stranded nine runners, left the bases loaded after back-to-back strikeouts.
Oconto Falls worked a little two-out magic in the sixth as Moeller singled and came around to score on a throwing error that sent VerVelde to second. Peterson delivered an RBI single to left to bring in VerVelde to give the Panthers a three-run cushion, 4-1.
The two insurance runs loomed large for the Panthers.
“Those are huge if you can tack those on at that point,” Rochon said. “Plus, we don’t know what we’re going to get from our pitchers. We haven’t seen them. They battled and they threw enough strikes to be effective, but we’re not going to overpower anybody.”
Mielke threw the final inning for Oconto Falls and retired the first two hitters. Sam Blank stroked a double, and Ryan Peterson drove in courtesy runner Owen Geurts to pull Seymour within two. With the potential tying run at first, Mielke got Trent Blake to ground out to end the game.
LeVeille earned the victory on the mound for Oconto Falls after throwing a scoreless fifth inning. Seymour’s Phil Grelecki threw the final four innings and took the loss after relieving Blake.
Brett Proctor had a pair of hits for the Panthers, and Kamden Bloom reached base twice.
Seymour was led by Blank with three hits.
Rochon liked the way his kids played in the opener, especially the defense, which committed just one error.
“We didn’t kick it around; we didn’t have errors happen and then compound them,” Rochon said. “I’m happy with the defense. I’m happy with the hitting. We didn’t hit with authority for the most part, but we put the bat on the ball, which is the first time seeing a live pitcher outside.”
Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Oconto Falls 0 0 1 0 1 2 0 4 11 1
Seymour 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 2 8 2