Pitching leads to doubleheader sweep of Valders

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Oconto Falls playing well before next week’s regional

Greg Bates Times Herald Correspondent

With the postseason just around the corner, the Oconto Falls Legion baseball team is hitting its stride at the perfect time.

Oconto Falls used back-to-back complete games from its starting pitchers, who received plenty of run support, in sweeping a doubleheader, 5-4 and 6-3, against Valders on Saturday at Memorial Field.

Oconto Falls (6-4) has won four games in a row after starting its summer schedule 2-4.

“We’re kind of collecting a nice head of steam before regionals are coming up,” Oconto Falls head coach Alex Seidel said. “We made it to state last year, so those are definitely big shoes to fill. We kind of just want to do the best that we can.”

A major reason for Oconto Falls’ surge late in the season is its offense is starting to click. Seidel’s hitters are taking a better approach at the plate with two strikes and are consistently putting the ball in play.

“One of the big things when we lost games earlier in the season is pitchers would hit our outside corner, and we wanted to pull everything,” Seidel said. “Now, we’re seeing our guys take a lot more pitches into right field. They’re doing a lot more things at the plate that are going to help us win. That’s kind of the mentality change.”

Oconto Falls had just 13 hits in the doubleheader, but the batters came up big in clutch situations. However, the team still left 16 runners on base.

“Whenever we get a practice day together and we can work on that, we do,” Seidel said about his team’s clutch hitting. “Coach Joe Sefcik kind of works with the pitchers and I kind of work with the hitters, and we’re trying to grind out the fundamentals of hitting so that we can get there. Our pitching is carrying us right now.”

Oconto Falls’ top two pitchers, Mason Sefcik and Wes Brabant, both were lights out against Valders. The team surrendered seven runs on the day, but the two hurlers allowed only one earned run on 11 hits.

Oconto Falls committed six errors in the two games. Having a four-error game in the opener isn’t something Seidel wants to see this deep in the season.

“We have some kinks we have to iron out,” Seidel said. “We have some fielding things that we have to work on going forward.”

In the first game, Oconto Falls scored one run in the first inning and put up three more in the third. No. 8 hitter Tyler Mielke walked to start the frame, and Dylan Nelson and Bryce Peterson each followed with singles. Kamdan Bloom and Brabant both stroked RBI base hits to make it 3-0. Connor Peetz grounded out to score Peterson.

“Any time we can build a lead for our ace, Sefcik, it’s comfortable sitting in the dugout and kind of managing the game from that standpoint and very comfortable for us at the plate as well,” Seidel said. “You want to score more runs, but that pressure of ‘you need it now’ is not there.”

Valders put up two runs in the fifth and Oconto Falls added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning to go up 5-2. In the sixth, Valders got its first three runners on base – on two hits and an error — but Sefcik retired the next three hitters. Valders plated two runs, but the tying run was stranded at third base.

Sefcik went all seven innings, allowing just one earned run on six hits. He finished with eight strikeouts and two walks.

Oconto Falls had seven hits in the game by seven different batters. Peetz collected a team-high two RBI.

After a confidence-building win in Game 1, Oconto Falls’ bats didn’t waste any time getting going in the second game. Peterson and Bloom opened the game with singles and Brabant reach on an error to load the bases. Sam Virtues followed with a two-run single and Jake Foster drove in Brabant with a sacrifice fly. Peetz and Jason Moeller both walked, Virtues stole home, and a fielder’s choice by Mielke brought in Peetz for the fifth run of the inning.

With a five-run cushion before even talking the mound, Brabant was in a groove early; he tossed just 11 pitches in the first two innings.

“He was throwing well right out of the gate,” Seidel said. “We give Wes a lead like that, too, that’s something we’re very comfortable with.”

With Oconto Falls up 5-2, Peterson led off the sixth with a single, stole second and scored after two groundouts.

“Bryce was seeing the ball really well today,” Seidel said. “Part of it too is he’s a very quick kid, so he can beat out a lot of hits.”

The first four hitters in Oconto Falls’ lineup collected all six of the team’s hits. Peterson and Brabant had two apiece.

Brabant pitched a complete-game five-hitter with one earned run. He needed just 93 pitches to close out the win.

The regional tournament in Bonduel gets under way on July 19.

Seidel feels like his team is starting to click, it just needs to shore up a few areas before the postseason starts.

“If we can get our hitting and our fielding to match what our pitching is doing, we’ll be a team that I’m hoping can make the same kind of run we made last year,” Seidel said.