On a weekend that transcended softball and even snowshoe baseball, Don Hilgendorf and his Snowhawks came out as winners.
Figuratively and literally.
Hosting the nationally-known Wounded Warriors softball team, the Snowhawks and the entire Lake Tomahawk community came together for a weekend filled with three games, and when it was all over, more than $74,000 had been raised for the Wounded Warriors organization.
That amount given by the Snowhawks and all the people who made the weekend possible was the second highest donation the Wounded Warriors had ever receieved.
“It was just a great weekend filled with so many good people and good times,” Hilgendorf said. “It was just incredible. And the games were awesome too.”
The weekend was the culmination of more than two years of planning by Hilgendorf, the Snowhawks, the Lake Tomahawk community, and a special commission.
Playing on their home turf at Snowshoe Park Friday night, the Snowhawks took advantage of the Wounded Warriors unfamiliarity playing on woodchips and with a 16-inch (opposed to the usual 12-inch) ball without the help of gloves, as the Snowhawks easily prevailed 19-5.
“Friday night was just for fun,” Hilgendorf said. “I kind of knew it was going to be like that just because the Wounded Warriors had never played with that size of a ball and without gloves, so they were out of their element. But I told the guys after the game, that tomorrow we have to play their game.”
For the Saturday doubleheader at the Minocqua Highway 70 Park Complex, traditional softball rules were used, and the Snowhawks were the ones out of their element.
The two teams battled in two instant classics, as both teams pulled off improbable comebacks in both games, settling for a split. The Snowhawks came back to win game one 13-12 off a walk-off three-run home run while the Wounded Warriors did the exact same in a 14-12 game two win.
“Both games were just terrific,” Hilgendorf said. “For both games to end on walk-off home runs, you can’t really ask for much more.”
In game one, the Wounded Warriors jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead before solo home runs from Dave Maize and Jordan Schmidt evened the score at 2-2 after one.
The Wounded Warriors got a two-run blast from Josh Wege and another two runs from an error in the second, and another run in the third pushed the visitors’ lead up to 7-2 after two and a half innings.
But the Snowhawks weren’t about to back down.
Runs from Craig Holmquist and Brian Jacquest pulled them within 7-4, and after the Wounded Warriors scored three in the top of the fourth, the Snowhawks responded with three of their own to keep them within three at 10-7 after four.
After Wege and John Herst scored for the Wounded Warriors to put the Snowhawks in a 12-7 hole heading into the bottom of the sixth, things looked grim for the hosts.
But that’s when the Snowhawks made their move.
Runs from John Konopacky and Jacquest pulled them within 12-9 heading into the seventh.
Following a 1-2-3 top of the seventh for the Wounded Warriors, the Snowhawks went to work.
Eric Hilmer started things off with a single, and Maize doubled to put runners on the corners. Schmidt followed up with a double that scored Hillmer to make it 12-10. One out later, Alex Bailey stepped to the plate with two runners on base and two outs.
Bailey smashed a three-run home run, giving the Snowhawks the walk-off win and was greeted by his teammates who mugged him at home plate.
“What a great game of softball,” Hilgendorf said. “It could have gone either way but Alex found a pitch he liked and put it over the fence. It was really fun to see.”
The Snowhawks looked like they might sweep the weekend from the Wounded Warriors after taking a 12-4 lead in game two, before the Wounded Warriors pulled their own comeback story.
The visitors scored the game’s final 10 runs – including the last three off the second walk-off three-run home run of the day – as the teams settled for a split with the Wounded Warriors winning 14-12 in game two.
“Our guys loved it and had a great time,” Hilgendorf said.
The Wounded Warriors, some of whom had never been this far north before in their lives, stayed overnight right on Lake Tomahawk at the Camp American Legion.
“It was a great experience for those guys, some of whom had never been in a setting like that,” Hilgendorf said. “Lake Tomahawk is the smallest town the Wounded Warriors had ever been to, too.”
The manager of the Wounded Warriors even told Hilgendorf that they have an open spot in their schedule for 2016, and that they would enjoy coming back.
“The games this weekend were excellent, but obviously this goes much deeper than just two teams playing softball,” Hilgendorf said. “For our guys to experience something like this, I hope they remember it for the rest of their lives. I know I will.”
Evan Wixom may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.