The Ithaca Bulldogs are returning to Appleton and the WIAA State Baseball Tournament.
The Bulldogs capped a week of tournament play with a sweep in the WIAA D-4 Sectional at Bangor Tuesday to earn their second trip to State.
Jacob Huebsch led the Bulldogs on the mound and at the plate as Ithaca rolled over Fennimore, 11-2, in the sectional semi-finals.
And his younger brother Aaron threw a five-hitter and Caleb Olson walloped a three-run homer as the Bulldogs crushed the Brookwood Falcons, 11-1, in the sectional title game.
The wins extended the Bulldogs’ current win streak to seven games.
The Bulldogs, now 22-3, will open D-4 State Tournament play with a brunch special at 10 a.m. Wednesday against Rib Lake. Rib Lake gained a state berth with a 6-5 win over Wausaukee in the sectional finals. Earlier Rib Lake eliminated Pittsville, another team seeking a return trip to state, 9-2.
In the other D-4 semi-final, Spring Valley will battle Rio at 8 a.m.
The semi-final winners will play for the State D-4 championship on Thursday, June 18, at 9 a.m.
Last year’s D-4 state champions Lake Country Lutheran also earned a return trip to state, but the Lightning will compete in D-3 this season. Last year’s runner-up McDonnell Central was eliminated in the regional semi-final last week.
The Bulldogs proved nearly as hot as the weather in the sectional. With the thermometer pushing 90, the Bulldogs’ bats proved nearly as hot. They pounded out 10 hits in each game and never trailed.
Ithaca realized the outcome it desired after being eliminated in the state semi-finals last season with nearly the same cast.
Coach Jeff Hilleshiem said his team has been pointing on getting back to Appleton all season. They did it all season with a mixture of potent hitting and stingy, sometimes overpowering, pitching backed up by a solid defense.
The Bulldogs’ focus was on display in the sectional as well as their ability to pick each other up. In the opener, the Bulldogs’ first four hitters were a combined one for 14 while the lower end of the order had nine hits. But in the finals, the first four hitters produced six hits and seven runs.
There may have been only a split second of an anxious moment.
“When we’re disciplined and swing at strikes, we can be productive,” Hilleshiem said. “Sometimes, we get overanxious and swing at bad pitches.”
Ithaca touched Fennimore with four runs in the second inning. Caleb Olson drew a walk. Jacob Huebsch singled sharply. Ross Ghastin beat out a bunt to load the bases. Cody Klossowski drew a walk to force in a run. Luke Oelke singled to left scoring courtesy runner Caden Moser with Ghastin crossing when the Eagles bobbled the ball. Joey Clary’s sacrifice fly score Klossowski.
Fennimore drew within 4-2 in the third with a two-out rally. Hits by Zach Adkins, Brett Needham, Jeff Needham and Nick Henkel put the Eagles on the board.
The Bulldogs clung to the lead until Huebsch ignited a four-run sixth. Ghastin singled home Moser. Klossowski walked and Oolke walked. Ryan Granger’s sacrifice fly scored Ghastin. Joey Clary singled to load the bases. Nolan Clary walked forcing in a run, and Oelke scored when Aaron Kepler grounded out.
Ithaca added three more in the seventh. Ghastin reached on an error. Klossowski tripled him in, and courtesy runner Max Walker scored as Oelke singled for his third hit. Oelke scored as Joey Clary hit a sacrifice fly.
Huebsch and Oelke each had three hits while Ghastin had two. The Bulldogs drew six walks off two Fennimore pitchers and five scored.
Meanwhile, Huebsch pitched six innings allowing seven hits. He walked one and fanned nine despite having uncharacteristic control problems with his curve ball. Nolan Clary struck out the side in the seventh.
So which member of the Huebsch, Huebsch, Oelke, Clary and Clary law firm – a group without a “senior” partner - would Hilleshiem tap for the championship game?
He opted for Aaron Huebsch, the lanky with the slingshot motion who has been impressive in recent outings. “I told him to relax and throw strikes,” said older brother Jacob, who had a breakout game in the 2014 sectional title battle.
Although Aaron plunked the first batter he faced and walked two more, he escaped the jam with two strikeouts and a comeback grounder.
The Bulldogs’ bats helped him relax. They scored a run in the first. Joey Clary doubled and went to third on a wild pitch. Jacob Huebsch’s single scored Clary and gave his brother a little cushion.
The Bulldogs relieved more tension in the second with a six-run outburst. With one out, Granger walked, Joey Clary reached on an error and Nolan Clary singled in a run. Another crossed when two Eagles collided allowing Kepler to reach on an error. The big blow came from Olson who belted a three-run homer over the leftfield fence. Ithaca added one more. Ghastin walked, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Klossowski.
The Bulldogs tacked on two more in the third as Clary cousins and Kepler cracked three straight hits. They went up 10-0 in the fourth when Oelke doubled and scored on a hit by Granger.
Brookwood put together three straight hits to load the bases in the fifth. The Falcons managed a run to prolong the game.
It went to the bottom of the sixth before Max Walker delivered a walkoff single over the drawn-in Brookwood defense for a 10-run rule win.
Huebsch fanned seven and walked five.
In addition to Ithaca advancing, Baraboo advanced in D-1 and will play Janewsville Craig Tuesday night. And River Valley rallied twice to beat Wisconsin Dells and then Lodi to get in the D-2 field. The Blackhawks will face Notre Dame Wednesday night at 8 p.m.