Last Wednesday evening was a picture-perfect day for the Lakeland Little League Minors Division to wrap up the 2014 season. The weather was not too warm, the bugs were nowhere to be found and both the Quality Equipment Wildcats and Everest Custom Homes Eagles came ready to take advantage of the conditions as they squared off at the Minocqua Sports Complex for the championship game.
When the dust settled, the Wildcats emerged with an 11-5 win to grab the crown.
Both teams seemed a little nervous as the game got under way, with both squads sending just three batters to the plate in the first inning. Quality jumped all over the pitching machine to tally five runs in eight batters in the top of the second.
Max Nowak got things going with a single, as did Dan Gahler and Riley James to load the bases. Owen Dahl hit a single to drive in a run, Tyler McMahon drove in a run on his single next, but was caught trying to reach third on Megan Haggart’s double. Trein Benbenek hit a deep fly ball that was caught in the outfield that scored Haggart from second.
The Wildcats threatened again in the third when they loaded the bases on singles from Nowak, Gahler and James but strikeouts retired the side.
The Eagles cut the score to 5-2 in the bottom of the fourth. Tyler Marquardt and Garrett Tobias both reached on singles with one out. A double by Mike Kosmen scored both before he was caught in a fielder’s choice hit by Ryan Morlen. A strikeout ended the inning.
For the Wildcats, Megan Haggart started off the top of the fourth with a double and was driven in by a triple by Benbenek. Ashton Anderson rapped a double and moved to third on a single by Max Haggart and Benbenek was caught trying to score. Two strikeouts ended the Wildcat at-bat with the score at 6-2.
Quality added five more runs in the top of the sixth and final inning with all 10 players getting to the plate.
Megan Haggart again reached base in her third trip to the plate, and Benbenek hit another double. Anderson drove in one run with a single, and Max Haggart joined the RBI parade with another single to load the bases. Nowak drove in two more, was moved around by a deep single by Gahler and Dahl drove in Nowak from third before the last batter struck out.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Eagles put on their rally caps, sending eight of their nine players to bat with three of them crossing home for runs. Mac Haling led off with a single, followed by Marquardt and Tobias. Mike Kosmen hit a double and Milan Thoms singled to drive in the three runs, but the next two batters hit the ball where it could be easily relayed to make a force out to end the game.
For Wildcats’ coach Bob Nowak, the win marked the second time his team notched a win in a tournament, as they also took the midseason trophy.
Everest, by virtue of being seeded number one, got a first round bye in the end-of-season tournament, but Quality also made it through the first round by virtue of a forfeit by Papa Murphys’ Pizza, who couldn’t field enough players last week in the first game. Rather than let his players get rusty, Nowak loaned the Papa’s team enough players to play a scrimmage game that also let their opponents who could be there get in one more game.
He said the team got off to a rocky start of the season, losing their first three games.
“We came from the bottom and we worked our way to the top,” Nowak said of the team’s rise during the year. “The boys, and girl, all played real well. They played with a lot of determination, they put a lot of heart into it. Coach Rob (Haggart) and I asked for 100 percent of them for each and every game and they brought it.”
He said both coaches were proud of each and every player and couldn’t say enough about all of them. But he also wanted to single out the extra effort all the parents made to help the team.
“If it wasn’t for the parents bringing their child out to play, this would not ... have happened,” Nowak said. “Getting the kids here prior to the game for good warm-ups, the support we received was excellent. It was a true pleasure.”
He said he was proudest of how far the team has come, considering the late spring curtailed practices, and many of the kids had never swung at a ball from a pitching machine before.
“As the season progressed, we actually used the games as practice. A lot of our boys, and girl, caught on quickly and played very strong,” Nowak said.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at email@example.com.