By Paul Lecker
APPLETON – The Stratford baseball team has persevered through tough circumstances throughout the season, especially in the playoffs, and that continued Thursday in the Division 3 championship game at the 2019 WIAA State Baseball Tournament at Fox Cities Stadium.
The Tigers trailed 2-0 and 3-2, coming back to tie the game both times.
After the first two batters in the top of the seventh were retired, the Tigers had eight straight batters reach base, six of which scored, and Stratford pulled out a 9-4 win over Markesan to win its first ever state baseball title.
“It’s awesome,” senior centerfielder Eli Drexler said. “We knew we had the potential to be this team at the start of the season and we were hoping we’d end up here. It was a pretty intense path to get here, but we ended up pulling through. A lot of close games, which prepared for us for today. We never crumbled.”
Stratford won three of its five playoff games by one run, including both at the sectional last week. That experience in tight games helped the Tigers stay calm when the situation presented itself again Thursday, and again they found a way to win.
“It was probably a blessing that we were able to play so many close games because it did prepare us out here,” Drexler said. “State wasn’t too big for us. We had a couple of errors but we settled in pretty good. We managed to keep it together long enough for a win.”
Riley Bauman had a two-run single with two outs in the fifth to tie the game at 2-2 after Markesan plated single runs in the second and third innings.
Markesan (22-6) once again pulled ahead with a run in the bottom of the fifth. A two-out throwing error allowed a runner to reach and Shane Ryan came around to score from second when no one from Stratford covered the plate, putting the Hornets back up, 3-2.
Chandler Schmidt delivered a two-out triple to score Drexler, who had walked, to tie the game for Stratford (22-2) in the top of the sixth and the score remained tied heading into the seventh.
Markesan left-handed reliever Gavin Gilbertson retired the first batter before suffering an injury and was forced to leave the game. Cayden Plagenz entered and coaxed a flyout to center before the Tigers erupted.
Bauman singled, Mav Licciardi walked, and Devyn Palmer singled to load the bases. Lance Heidmann was hit by a pitch to force in a run and Drexler followed with a two-run single to make it 6-3.
Schmidt added another two-RBI single, pinch hitter Dylan Schoenherr singled, and Dawson Moen ripped another single to plate pinch runner Max Schwabe and it was 9-3.
Markesan scored once in the bottom of the seventh but Schmidt was able to limit the damage, gaining a strikeout and a groundout to Ty Pankratz at third to end the game and start Stratford’s celebration.
“It feels good,” Schmidt said. “I don’t have any words to explain it. It’s just fun playing with my brothers on the team.”
Schmidt finished 3-for-5 with three RBIs, and Bauman and Palmer each had two hits to lead the Tigers. Schmidt tossed a complete game on the mound, striking out six and walking just one.
“I think we have a lot of experience and we’re senior dominated,” Schmidt said. “Our seniors helped carry us and showed great leadership, and I think Coach (Marshall) Lehman prepared us very well. We did special drills in those (close game) situations and it turned out to be good.”
The state championship game was the fourth for Stratford sports teams this school year. The girls volleyball, and boys football and wrestling teams all earned runner-up trophies, with the baseball team finishing things off with a gold one.
“We knew we had a team that could get down here,” Lehman said. “We had a lot of depth, a lot of young kids that like playing ball, and seniors that have been around this forever. It’s just amazing. Seeing the faces of these kids, the community, ending this long run of teams making it to state. It’s spectacular.
“We have a first-year pitching coach in Drew Spaeth and he’s gotten his guys ready since Day 1. We’ve preached throwing strikes, changing speeds, hitting your spots, and they’ve done it all year long.”
Tigers 9, Hornets 4
Stratford 000 021 6 – 9 10 3
Markesan 011 010 1 – 4 7 5
WP: Chandler Schmidt. LP: Cayden Plagenz.
SO: Schmidt 6; Bryce Leedle (5 2/3 inn.) 2, Gavin Gilbertson (2/3 inn.) 1, Ca. Plagenz (2/3 inn.) 0. BB: Schmidt 1; Leedle 3, Gilbertson 0, Ca. Plagenz 1.
Top hitters: M, Max Stellmacher 2×3, 3B, run. S, Eli Drexler 1×4, 2 runs, 2 RBIs; Schmidt 3×5, 3B, 3 RBIs; Riley Bauman 2×4, 2 RBIs, run; Devyn Plamer 2×4, run.
Records: Stratford 22-2; Markesan 22-6.
Paul Lecker is publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com, a contributor to OnFocus sports.