"If you had to win only one (against Bay), it was good to win this one."
That happy shout from the Nicolet side of the throng in place at Aaron Field Tuesday night told the tale of a remarkably one-sided WIAA regional semifinal baseball battle, as Nicolet stunned its higher-seeded North Shore archrival Whitefish Bay with a fast start and never looked back in a 14-2 six-inning rout.
The Blue Dukes, who had beaten the Knights twice already this season (12-0 and 7-6), were no match for the inspired Nicolet team, which improved 14-15 and advanced to a Friday regional final at second-seeded Cedarburg (5:30 p.m.) while Bay's up-and-down season ended at 16-15
Nicolet coach Jason Grodsky pointed to sophomore second baseman Alex Braun's bullet double to the left-centerfield fence with the bases-loaded in the first. It gave the Knights a 3-0 lead and they never trailed after that.
"We talked about having a fast start," said Grodsky, "about attacking the strike zone. This was just a night where we put in place and executed everything we've been trying all season. It all came together."
Yes it did. Using an aggressive attitude, the Knights put the ball in play often and almost always when needed. The Blue Dukes had a hard time keeping up.
Three errors and Braun's RBI single in the third led to two more runs and a 5-0 lead.
In the interim, Nicolet senior starter Hunter Crass (four strikeouts and one walk) had a good curveball going and with the advantage of the lead, pounded the strike zone relentlessly against the Blue Dukes, who didn't get anything going untiil the botom of the fourth.
In that frame, Blue Duke first baseman Cal Gavic, who the inning before had made a sensational diving catch in foul ground, ripped a two-run single past the third baseman to make it 5-2.
But even that silver lining had a dark cloud, as Gavic had to come out with a leg injury.
Bay subsequently loaded the bases in the frame and had a chance to pull even closer, but then Crass got a strikeout to end the threat. Crass would wind up putting down the final seven Bay batters in order, limiting the Blue Dukes to just three total hits.
"It's hard to win any game that way," said Wojcinski.
Nicolet then chased Blue Duke starter and loser Joe Kaszubowski with a four-run fifth, as Kaszubowski made two errors on a two-on, none-out bunt. That play scored one run. It was followed by a sacrifice fly from Matt Appleby, a suuccessful safety squeeze by Brett Keiper for another score and an RBI single by Crass's twin brother Tyler.
Bay coach Jay Wojcinski had to go to team ace Nick Lackney to try and stem the bleeding, but by that time it was too late. All told, Bay would commit six errors on the evening.
"Give Nicolet credit," said Wojcinski. "They came to play tonight. When they needed a hit, they got one. When they needed to make a play in the field, they did and when Hunter (Crass) needed to make a pitch, he did."
"This was just very frustrating. This was not the way we expected to go out. ...But all the little mistakes we've been making this summer, we made them over and over again tonight."
Thanks to a series of baserunning moves, excellent bunting and more aggressiveness, Nicolet was able to close the deal with five more runs in the sixth.
Braun, who was brought up partway through the summer and who has been a find ever since for Grodsky and the Knights, led the way with three hits and four RBI while Tyler Crass had three hits and two RBI.
"Yeah, we really wanted to win this one," Braun said, echoing the Knight supporter who had shouted at the end of the game, "and that start was was exactly what we needed. That pitch was straight down the middle (in the first) and I wanted to get us started by getting some runs in."
"That got our bench going and they were great tonight (with their energy and enthusiasm)."
Grodsky was pleased with the turnabout from the two earlier Bay games.
"This game was just the opposite of those," he said. "We'd make a mistake or two and they'd pounce right on us. Tonight it was us taking advantage of their mistakes. Tonight we jumped on them and capitalized on our opportunities.
"...It was great to see so much excitement in our dugout."
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