DARLINGTON – Several times this season, the Darlington Redbirds baseball team rallied in the seventh inning or beyond to walk off the diamond a winner. Against SWAL-rival Cuba City in their playoff opener, their late-inning magic ran out.
The Redbirds plated one run in the bottom of the seventh inning and had the bases loaded when Cuba City pitcher Adam Kane got junior clean-up hitter Jesse Sturtz to pop out to third base for the final out to secure the #6-seeded Cubans’ 5-4 victory over the #2-seeded ‘Birds in a WIAA Division 3 regional semifinal affair at Otto Ruf Field on Tuesday, May 31.
“We made some errors that are uncharacteristic of us, but are very characteristic of big games. We didn’t handle the pressure and give (Cuba City) credit, they did,” said Darlington head coach Brad Solberg. “We were fortunate to play in a meaningful game this late in the year. It just didn’t happen for us.”
Shortstop Will Schwartz brought the hosts back within a run and put the winning run on base earlier in the seventh when he lined a RBI-single to cut the deficit to 5-4. Following a passed ball that moved runners up to second and third, senior catcher Tyler Osterday– who had homered earlier in the game– was intentionally walked to loaded bases.
Sturtz was a batter Coach Solberg was happy to have at the plate in that situation since he had drove in or scored the winning or tying run three times in such a clutch spot. However, as fate would have it, this time it was not meant to be.
The Cubans (7-16 overall) put the pressure on from the get-go when DH Matt McVay doubled in Kyle Bass and scored on Jacob Wagner’s RBI-single to put the guests ahead 2-0 in the top of the first inning.
Osterday answered back with a solo home run in the bottom of the first to slice the deficit in half, and junior first baseman Chad Golackson cracked a RBI-single in the second to tie the score at 2-2.
Wagner lined another RBI-single in the top of the third to put the Cubans back on top, but Sturtz brought the Redbirds (15-6) back to even in the home-half of the frame with a single that drove in Brayden McDonald to make it 3-3.
The Cubans struck for two runs in the fourth to regain the lead for good with Mason Reuter scoring on a passed ball and Tyler Hartl coming in to score on a wild pitch to put them ahead 5-3.
The ‘Birds got runners on base in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings but could not score, and their seventh-inning rally came up short as the Cubans held on to knock off the SWAL champions.
Wagner was 3-for-4 and Bass went 2-for-4 to lead the Cubans, who fell to top-seed Prairie du Chien, 12-2, in the regional finale on Thursday, June 2.
Golackson finished 3-for-3 to lead the Redbirds’ seven-hit attack.
“I’m proud of how hard these guys fought all year. It didn’t come easy. As the defending conference champions we had a target on our back and got everyone’s (best) shot. We embraced that target, we had fun with it and we took pride in protecting that title. Adding a 2016 to our banner will mean a lot to these guys down the road,” noted Solberg about the team’s back-to-back SWAL title run.
Playing in their final prep game at DHS were seniors Sam Cohen, Tyler Osterday, Tyler Torstenson-Harris and Kyle Thompson.
“My four seniors had a lot on their plates coming into this season. They didn’t allow us to take a step back. Their passion for the game trickled through the entire program. I can’t thank them enough for the way they led this season,” Solberg stated.
WIAA D3 REGIONAL SEMIFINAL
Cuba City…. 201 200 0 – 5 8 0
Darlington… 111 000 1 – 4 7 0
Leading hitters: Chad Golackson 3x3. HR– Tyler Osterday.
WP- Kane. LP- Ryan Glendenning.
At Darlington, on Tuesday, May 31