Legion baseball: Oconto Falls goes 1-2 at Diamond Cat Tournament

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Team hoping tough losses help down stretch

Oconto Falls’ Travis Zielinski, left, sprints toward first base as Sam Virtues heads toward the plate to score a run during a Legion tournament game against Shawano in Clintonville on June 28. (Times Herald photo by Morgan Rode)

Connor Peetz delivers a pitch for Oconto Falls during a Legion tournament game during the Diamond Cat Tournament in Clintonville. (Times Herald photo by Morgan Rode)

Oconto Falls’ Braden Uelmen, right, prepares to make a throw to first base after fielding a grounder during a Legion tournament game against Shawano in Clintonville on June 28. (Times Herald photo by Morgan Rode)

Legion baseball pitching rules came back to haunt Oconto Falls during the Diamond Cat Tournament in Clintonville between Wednesday and Friday (June 26-28).

Oconto Falls finished 1-2 in the eight-team, double elimination tournament.

Both of Oconto Falls losses came to Clintonville, while the team’s win came in an elimination game against Shawano.

Oconto Falls first matchup with Clintonville came on Wednesday night, with the hosts coming away with a 7-4 win.

Oconto Falls grabbed an early 2-0 lead, with Tucker Bouche scoring on an error and Mitch Manns crossing the plate on a passed ball in the first inning.

Connor Peetz started on the mound for Oconto Falls, stranding a pair of baserunners in the first inning before surrendering a run in the second.

Oconto Falls bounced back with two runs in the third. Manns scored on a sacrifice flyout by Sam Virtues before Peetz scored on a bases-loaded walk by Mason Sefcik.

That would be the final runs Oconto Falls scored in the contest, as Clintonville scored three times in the third and three more times in the fourth to surge ahead. Oconto Falls had a couple opportunities to cut into the deficit, but an inning-ending double play and strikeout ended threats in the fifth and sixth.

“We seem to get off to good starts scoring and always seem to let up as the game goes on,” said Peetz. “We just need to continue to play with passion and stay focused on the game.”

The loss sent Oconto Falls into the loser’s bracket, where they were set to play Shawano Thursday. Weather postponed the elimination game to Friday afternoon.

Again, Oconto Falls jumped out to a lead, with Braden Uelmen singling home Jake Foster in the second inning.

But much like its first game, Oconto Falls was unable to hold the lead. Shawano scored once in the second and again in the third to take a 2-1 lead.

This time, Oconto Falls responded, scoring five times in its half of the fourth and again in the sixth to coast to a 7-2 win.

In the team’s five-run frame, Virtues and Uelmen recorded RBIs. Manns and Dylan Nelson scored on wild pitches, while Virtues scored on an error. Bouche singled home Travis Zielinski in the sixth.

Uelmen also started on the mound and pitched well until he was relieved in the fifth inning. Tyler Mielke came on in relief and worked into the seventh before Nelson got the final out.

The win set up a rematch against Clintonville, with the loser going home and the winner advancing to Saturday.

The rematch turned into a bit of deja vu for Oconto Falls, which got out to a comfortable lead but was unable to seal the victory. Clintonville went on for a 7-6 win in a 10-inning game that lasted about three hours and ended around midnight.

Oconto Falls took the lead with a pair of runs in the second inning. Uelmen drove in Peetz on a groundout and Virtues scored on a Zielinski single.

After Clintonville responded with a run in the third, Oconto Falls scored three times in the fourth to go up 5-1. Virtues scored on a single from Zielinski before an error on the play also allowed Uelmen to score. Zielinski later would score on a wild pitch.

Oconto Falls tacked on an insurance run when Bouche scored on a bases-loaded walk by Virtues in the fifth, giving Oconto Falls a lead that had even Clintonville’s coach thinking his team was out of the game.

Part of the reason behind that thinking was because Oconto Falls’ Mason Sefcik was throwing a gem on the mound.

Sefcik did not allow a baserunner until the third inning. When Sefcik was pulled in the sixth due to reaching the pitch count limit, it gave Clintonville new life.

The hosts scored twice in the frame to make the score 6-3. Clintonville then scored three times in the seventh to tie it up, with the big hit being a two-out, two-RBI single. The next batter struck out to send the game to extras.

After limiting Oconto Falls to just one baserunner between the eighth and 10th, Clintonville had its first three baserunners reach before a run-scoring single ended the game.

“It’s the old cliche, but it’s never over until it’s over,” said Oconto Falls co-coach Joe Sefcik, “Our guys know that and losing like that sucks. It’s a life lesson and I think it will make our guys stronger.”

Most teams used the tournament as a gauge for how prepared the team is for regional play, which is set for July 19. Oconto Falls learned a lot about itself across its three games.

“If we want to advance through regionals in a couple weeks, our pitchers, myself included, need to really be efficient in case the situation arises again,” said Uelmen. “Overall, our offense was the best it’s been all season and if we can clean up little things on the defensive end, we will be in good shape for regionals.”

“You get angry and take it out on every team we play after this. We don’t want to have this kind of feeling again, obviously,” said Mason Sefcik. “So we need to come back every game with the mentality that we don’t want to feel that again.”