Lakeland Union High School had to wait three weeks and had to drive nearly three hours, but it finally opened the curtain on the 2018 baseball season on Tuesday.
The Thunderbirds traveled to Mauston to square off with Chequamegon in a non-conference tilt, and after a slow start, they able to blow the game open.
Lakeland tallied six runs in the top of the third inning en route to a 12-0 thumping in the season opener.
"I couldn't have asked for anything better," LUHS head coach Mike Wilhelm said. "Overall as a team, it was a good little measuring stick for us just to come out and prove ourselves - to come put some of things we've done in practice to use."
It took some time for the T-Birds to get acclimated at the dish, with the side going down in order in the first two innings.
Then, in the third, Lakeland finally came alive and it happened with two outs. Michael Campbell recorded the team's first hit of the season on a leadoff single before the next two batters struck out.
After stealing second, Campbell scored on a single by Tate Olson, who eventually would steal third and home to put Lakeland up 2-0.
With runners at the corners, the T-Birds really opened things up as Jamie Slavinsky hit a 3-run inside-the-park home run to up the lead to five. Gunnar Weitz would single and freshman Keegan McJoynt singled in the following at-bat to once again put runners on the corners for Campbell, who drove in Weitz with a single of his own to cap the big inning.
Two innings later, Brandon Boh scored on an error and McJoynt hit an RBI double for the first of his two RBIs on the day.
The wheels came off for Chequamegon in the sixth as Lakeland scored on an error, a wild pitch, a bases loaded walk and an RBI single by Weitz to invoke the mercy rule at the end of the inning.
"It took us a little bit to get going, seeing our first pitching from 60 feet and six inches, on a field and not in a batting cage is a little different," Wilhelm said. "It took us two innings to really get the good pitches that we were looking for and put good swings on the baseball."
On the mound, Lakeland used a trio of pitchers - Ray Rentmeester, McJoynt and Tim Crisco - that allowed just one hit in the game, with five strikeouts and just 67 total pitches.
Rentmeester got the start and went two innings, allowing one hit and fanning three, while McJoynt and Crisco both threw two perfect innings apiece in their first varsity games.
"It started with our pitching, we had two guys throw two innings each," Wilhelm said. "Those guys threw, I would say, 98 percent fastballs. Going in we knew we were going to split it up that way and just wanted to throw strikes, work ahead of batters, pitch to contact and if strikeouts happen, they happen. They got us going in the right direction, threw strikes and we built off of those guys."
Offensively, Lakeland recorded 12 hits, walked six times and only left five runners on base during the entire game.
Overall, Wilhelm was pleased with the way his team performed in its first game, particularly considering it was the first time they had been outside all season.
He didn't feel there was any nervousness or the players were overly excited after being couped up in the gym.
"I think these guys are a relaxed group of guys, but they are very focused and very intense when the time calls for it," Wilhelm said. "This is a pretty darn good baseball group. They understand baseball and they how to apply it. Nerves weren't really an issue, they were just ready to get out and play."
Slavinsky finished 2 for 3 with three RBIs, while McJoynt was 2 for 3 with two RBIs. Weitz and Campbell each had two hits and RBI apiece for Lakeland.
The T-Birds are scheduled to play at Merrill tonight, but a large winter storm is reportedly looming, casting doubt on whether the game will be played.
After finally getting outside, they may have to go right back into the gym for another stretch before the weather begins to turn.
"I think we're all kind of settled into that reality," Wilhelm said. "We can only play the cards we're dealt and those are the cards we're dealt so we just have to make the best of it. We talked tonight after the game that we didn't win the Great Northern (Conference), but we have to understand that the Great Northern could be a sprint more than a marathon over the next month and a half span here. We might have to be playing our best ball right when we get our chance to play baseball. Our guys are focused on that."
Lakeland (1-0) is scheduled to play at Merrill tonight at 4:30 p.m.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @NickSabatoLT.