Legion Baseball: Oconto Falls rallies for win to open summer season

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Four-run sixth makes the difference

Greg Bates, Times Herald correspondent

There’s nothing like some late-game heroics to get a season off to a grand start.

The Oconto Falls Legion baseball team trailed all game against visiting Pulaski, but Oconto Falls pushed across four runs with two outs in the sixth inning to pull off a thrilling 9-6 victory June 7.

Scoring a win in the season opener should give the Oconto Falls players plenty of confidence the rest of the way.

“We scored nine runs — I don’t think we scored that all year (during the high school season),” said first-year Oconto Falls Legion coach Joe Sefcik, who has coached the majority of the players since Little League. “They can hit, and if you believe you can hit, stay positive, stay focused. They had some pretty good pitchers. They didn’t throw a whole lot of strikes, but our guys battled the whole time. I can’t ask more than that.”

Oconto Falls – which scored all nine of its runs with two outs — trailed 6-3 after 4½ innings, but reliever Sam Virtues pitched the final two frames and faced the minimum to pick up the victory.

With Oconto Falls down 6-5 heading into the bottom of the sixth, the team was ready for a rally.

“First thing is get on base, whatever it takes,” Sefcik said. “Peter Murphy started it off. (He) hasn’t played ball all year; he ran track. I said, ‘Whatever it takes, we need you on base.’ If they focus and kind of know what’s expected of them, I think they’re going to succeed.”

After Murphy walked, Connor Peetz struck out and Virtues reached on an error by the Pulaski third baseman. Leadoff hitter Cliff Yuma worked a walk to load the bases. Dylan Nelson struck out, but Mitch Manns walked to plate Murphy and tie the game. Cleanup hitter Kamden Bloom hit a ball shallow into the outfield, and Pulaski’s center fielder made a diving attempt but came up empty. The ball rolled past the outstretched fielder as Virtues, Yuma and Manns all came around to score on the double.

Pulaski (0-1) got a one-out base runner in the top of the seventh, but he was quickly erased on a double play. There was a line drive to center where Nelson made a diving catch and then threw to first base to double off the baserunner to end the game.

Tyler Mielke started on the mound for Oconto Falls (1-0) and pitched the first two innings. Jason Moeller threw the next three innings. Both guys were on a 45-pitch limit in the opener.

“These guys haven’t pitched enough,” Sefcik said. “With a shortened snow season and school with two games a week, they haven’t pitched much.”

Sefcik brought Virtues into the game to shut down Pulaski. The new coach is planning on using Virtues and his son, Mason, in late-game situations.

“I’m kind of an old-school guy,” Sefcik said. “We kind of always got five, six innings out of our starter, and then we have a horse that comes in and closes the door.”

Pulaski took a 3-0 lead in the first inning as Mielke tried to settle in. Not getting rattled, Oconto Falls scored three runs of its own in the bottom of the frame. Bloom had an RBI single, and Jacob Peterson stroked a two-run single to right to tie the game.

Pulaski coach Todd Hegbloom thought scoring three first-inning runs would give his team an edge. But that didn’t last long.

“It’s nice to get a big lead, but then you’ve got to stay focused and play like you’re down three instead of up three,” Hegbloom said. “That’s kind of what we lost. We lost focus.”

Pulaski scored a pair of runs in the fourth and one in the fifth before Oconto Falls started its comeback.

With the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth, Mason Sefcik hit a ball off the pitcher’s glove to plate Moeller and Nelson to make it 6-5.

With the win, the Oconto Falls players will take some momentum into their second game of the summer when they travel to Marinette on Wednesday.

Coach Sefcik is looking forward to a good season with his players.

“I told them, ‘I just want to get better every game, guys. We’re going to get better for the rest of the season. We’re going to have some fun,’” Sefcik said.