Oconto Falls Legion holds off Denmark

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Sam Virtues strands runners on 2nd, 3rd

Greg Bates, Times Herald correspondent

Oconto Falls got clutch hits when it needed it most.

Denmark, well, it couldn’t pick up a key hit with the game on the line.

Denmark had the tying and winning runs and third and second base, respectively, with just one out in the bottom of the seventh inning. Its next two hitters were retired as the Oconto Falls Legion team hung on for a 6-5 victory on the road on June 20.

“It’s good for our confidence,” Oconto Falls coach Joe Sefcik said. “They don’t believe in themselves all the time as being younger guys. And then something like this and then finishing on top of things — it means so much next time. Hopefully they won’t make it so interesting, but it’s baby steps for these guys.”

Dylan Nelson had a big game for Oconto Falls, going 2 for 4 with a walk and four RBIs. Nelson enjoyed helping the team secure a victory.

“It means a lot, especially since we have to get ready for the postseason, so every win counts,” Nelson said. “To get that victory feel, it really encourages us to do better.”

Both teams stranded 11 runners on base in a game that ended just a couple minutes before 11 p.m. But it was Oconto Falls that had the key hits, plating all six of its runs with two outs.

“That’s what baseball is, if you can make those hits it turns a 5-0 loss into a 6-5 win,” Sefcik said.

With Oconto Falls up 6-5 heading in the seventh, relief pitcher Sam Virtues walked the first two hitters of the inning. After a strikeout, Virtues threw a wild pitch that moved both runners into scoring position. Virtues settled down, getting a strikeout and forcing Denmark’s leadoff hitter to ground out on a diving stop by first baseman Zach Parsons to end the game.

Virtues didn’t make it easy on himself or his teammates during the tense moments in the final inning. Virtues threw three innings of one-hit ball to preserve the victory.

“Sam’s going to be one of our stronger finishers,” Sefcik said. “High school helped him out a lot — a lot of confidence. It’s going to make us better in the tournament.”

Oconto Falls (2-1) plated a pair of runs in the second inning on a Nelson two-run single. Oconto Falls added to its lead in the third. Peetz singled home Virtues and Peetz came around to score on a fielding error with Jason Moeller at the plate. Cliff Yuma walked to bring up Nelson again. He sliced a ball down the line that the right fielder made a diving attempt but missed. It allowed Moeller and Yuma to score to make it 6-1 as Nelson ended up at third.

“Dylan has a really nice swing,” Sefcik said. “Hitting is contagious and he never really got into a rhythm in high school because the season was kind of messed up — didn’t see a lot of pitches — but he’s a smart kid and once he starts believing in himself that nice swing of his is going to make all the difference.”

Nelson knew he needed to come through with a hit when given the opportunity.

“Your team sets you up, you get people on base and then you’ve just got to put the ball in play,” Nelson said.

Despite trailing by five runs, Denmark wasn’t going down without a fight. It added three runs in the third off Moeller, who started on the mound for Oconto Falls.

Denmark made it a one-run game in the sixth. That set up a critical point in the game. With runners on first and third with two out, Denmark’s Travis Wellner tried to steal second and Oconto Falls second baseman Connor Peetz cut off the throw. He then fired home to catcher Mitch Manns who applied a sweeping tag on Cole Paplham. The out was recorded and the inning ended.

It was a huge defensive play that proved to be the difference in the game.

“Those guys are on top of things,” Sefcik said. “Mitch and Connor in the infield, Charlie (Rochon, Oconto Falls spring baseball coach) taught them all this stuff. Mitch is back there as the general taking charge. He does a really good job of calling the plays.”

Oconto Falls’ next scheduled game is July 2 when it hosts Ashwaubenon at 6 p.m. Sefcik is trying to lock down an opponent for a game before the weekend of the Fourth of July.