Rockets move on to regional final Wednesday at Auburndale
By Paul Lecker
STRATFORD — Spencer got a strong pitching performance from Hunter Luepke and some timely hitting as the fourth-seeded Rockets stunned top-seed Stratford 7-6 in a WIAA Division 3 baseball regional semifinal Tuesday at the Tiger Stadium Complex.
Spencer (10-9) moves on to the D-3 regional final at Auburndale (10-7) at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday. The winner moves on to the sectionals next Tuesday, June 6.
Things started shakily for the Tigers as Dom Wichlacz reached first base on an error and came around to score on a double by Luepke to make it 1-0 after half an inning.
The Rockets added two more runs in the third. Singles by Wichlacz and Luepke set the table for Caden Schillinger, who drove in a run with a single. That chased Tiger starter Lucas Heidmann, and after reliever Cole Hoffman walked a pair of batters, one with the bases loaded, the Rockets had a 3-0 lead.
Stratford got one back in the third on an RBI single from Mark Handrick to make it 3-1.
Spencer feasted off an uncharacteristically wild Hoffman. The senior hurler walked the first Rocket batter in the fourth before getting a fly ball and a strikeout. Having seen enough of Luepke already in the fourth, the Tigers walked him intentionally, the first of the three intentional walks to the Rockets’ slugger in the game. Two more walks brought Carson Hildebrandt to the plate, and he lashed a two-out single to right-center, giving Spencer a 6-1 lead.
“That’s a good team win for us,” Spencer coach Tim Buttke said. “Hunter (Luepke) didn’t have his best stuff on the mound, but we labored through, did enough to get by, a total team effort. They didn’t pitch to Hunter, so other guys had to step up, and that’s what makes it even sweeter.”
The Tigers answered the Spencer runs by getting three of their own in the fourth, thanks mostly to Luepke’s wildness. The big lefty bounced a couple pitches in front of his catcher, and Stratford took advantage. An RBI bases-loaded walk by Kade Ehrike concluded the scoring in the inning before Luepke escaped with a strikeout to strand two.
“We didn’t pitch well the first couple of innings,” Stratford coach Brad Grube said. “First ball was an error. We had too many walks. Our third guy Lance Heidmann kept us in, but Luepke held us at bay. He’s a good pitcher. He kept us off balance and changed speeds well.”
Luepke ran out of pitches early in the sixth inning and was replaced by Tanner Kleinschmidt, who gave up a hit in the sixth but finished the inning with a fly ball to center.
Clinging to a 6-4 lead, the Rockets got a big insurance run in the seventh. Lucas Ellefson hit a two-out single, Luepke was intentionally walked again, and Schillinger registered his second RBI with his third hit of the game to make it 7-4.
“Caden Schillinger and a couple guys on the bottom of the order came through in a big way,” Buttke said. “We know our roles at this point in the season. We carried through with them, and that helps a lot.”
That being said, the top-seeded Tigers weren’t going home quietly.
Two singles to open the bottom of the seventh and a bobbled ball in center put Tigers on second and third. Kleinschmidt then coaxed a pair of fly balls before freshman Devyn Palmer drilled a two-run single to plate Ehrike and Handrick. Another single by Eli Drexler got things a bit tighter before Dylan Schoenherr ripped a shot to center that Spencer centerfielder Darren Willcome hauled in near his ankles to end the game.
Rockets 7, Tigers 6
Spencer 102 300 1 – 7 9 1
Stratford 001 300 2 – 6 8 2
WP: Hunter Luepke. LP: Lucas Heidmann. SV: Tanner Kleinschmidt.
SO: Luepke (5 1/3 inn.) 3, Kleinschmidt (1 2/3 inn.) 0; Lu. Heidmann (2 1/3 inn.) 2, Cole Hoffman (1 1/3 inn.) 2, Lance Heidmann (3 1/3 inn.) 4. BB: Luepke 5, Kleinschmidt 0; Lu. Heidmann 1, Hoffman 5, La. Heidmann 4.
Top hitters: SP, Dom Wichlacz 2 runs; Lukas Ellefson 2×4; Luepke 2×2, 2B, 2 runs; Caden Schillinger 3×4, 2B, 2 RBIs; Carson Hildebrandt 1×4, 2 RBIs. ST, Mark Handrick 2×4, RBI; Devyn Palmer 2×4, 2 RBIs.
Records: Stratford 14-6. Spencer 10-9.