APPLETON — McFarland rejoiced in its first trip to the WIAA state baseball tournament.
But an early deficit led to a 6-1 loss in McFarland’s Division 2 semifinal against Union Grove on Thursday morning at Nienhaus Sports Complex.
And the rain delay on Wednesday that cost the Spartans a chance to play at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute also left them feeling disappointed.
“It was tons of fun,” McFarland senior shortstop Reece Samuel said of the Spartans’ season. “The team had a blast. We definitely got closer. I was kind of bummed out that we didn’t get to play at the (Wisconsin) Timber Rattlers’ field. We were all disappointed.”
Fifth-ranked Union Grove (27-3) scored four runs on four hits, including two doubles, in the first inning and added single runs in the second and fourth innings en route to its 16th consecutive victory and a spot in the Division 2 title game against Antigo, where it lost 8-3 later Thursday. McFarland had its 10-game winning streak snapped and finished 20-10.
“They are a really good team,” said McFarland coach John Feldner, in his 44th season. “Some of the coaches I talked to said they were the best team they had seen this season. One said they were the best team he’d seen in 19 years. But we got down. Going in, I thought if we got through the first inning we’d be all right.”
Union Grove senior Luke Hansel, who has committed to MATC for baseball, threw a two-hit, complete-game victory, allowing one unearned run while striking out eight and walking none. He also doubled in the Broncos’ second run.
“We knew (Hansel) threw it fast and that he had a good curveball,” said Samuel, who plans to attend UW-La Crosse and might play baseball there. “We prepared for that. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the outcome that we wanted.”
Said Hansel: “Everything felt pretty good today. My curveball was really working. I was throwing it for strikes. ... Then, with the run support, it was real easy to pitch.”
Junior shortstop T.J. Manteufel, who’s orally committed to Bradley University, collected three hits, including two doubles for the Broncos. His first double, to right field, drove in the game’s first run.
“Those three and four hitters (Manteufel and Hansel) are really tough,” Feldner said.
Senior catcher Jack Clark and junior designated hitter Michael Jocius had two hits apiece for Union Grove, which totaled 10 hits.
Samuel picked up the Spartans’ first hit off Hansel in the fourth inning. His single moved senior second baseman Carson Wienke, who had reached on an error, to third base. Junior left fielder Xavier Schreiber then delivered a one-out sacrifice fly, bringing McFarland within 6-1.
“It was great getting the first hit,” Samuel said. “With all the supporters we had here today cheering, it was special.”
Top-ranked West De Pere played Antigo in the other Division 2 semifinal, which also was played at 8 a.m. Thursday, but at Fox Cities Stadium. The two Division 2 semifinals were moved from Wednesday night to Thursday morning because a six-hour rain delay pushed back Wednesday’s schedule.
Feldner said he believed the WIAA “erred in judgment significantly” after McFarland became the only team not to play at Fox Cities Stadium in this tournament. Feldner said he believed both Division 2 games should have been played Thursday morning at Fox Cities Stadium, even though that would have pushed the championship game schedule further back.
“Playing this morning isn’t as bad as not playing at the stadium,” Feldner said. “That’s very disappointing. I think the WIAA made a huge mistake. For my kids, they were looking forward to having their names on the (score)board and their faces on the board.”
WIAA deputy director and tournament manager Wade Labecki said he understood McFarland’s disappointment and felt bad about it. “I knew some people would be disappointed,” said Labecki, adding he’d spoken to McFarland athletic director Paul Ackley.
Labecki said, “We were in a difficult situation. We knew coming in, we were going to have weather problems on Wednesday.”
Labecki said the WIAA hoped to get in five of the six games Wednesday and then play five Thursday. But only four were played Wednesday because of the lengthy rain delay (the second Division 3 semifinal was played late Wednesday in cold, wet conditions).
He said adding both Division 2 games Thursday morning at Fox Cities Stadium would have backed up the championship game schedule too far, likely sending the Division 1 title game to a late-night start. He said several factors went into which Division 2 game was played at Fox Cities Stadium, including proximity, so the West De Pere-Antigo game was selected.
Labecki, noting Friday’s weather forecast also looked problematic, said, “You have to get the games in when you can.”
McFarland starter Jeremiah Price-Johnson, a junior right-hander who pitched the first five innings, said it was a letdown to not play at Fox Cities Stadium because “we came all this way to play at that field.” But he savored the Spartans’ season.
“It was probably the most fun experience I’ve ever had,” Price-Johnson said. “We played as a team. We got here as a team. It was so fun. I love all the players.”
Said Hansel: "We would have loved to have played at the other stadium. ... Obviously, it's unfortunate for them, but it's nice for us to know we now get to play at Fox Cities Stadium."
Union Grove 410 100 0 — 6 10 1
McFarland 000 100 0 — 1 2 2
Pitchers (ip-h-er-bb-so) — UG: Hansel (W; 7-2-0-0-8), M: Price-Johnson (L; 6.2-9-6-4-3), Miller (1.2-0-0-0-1), Becs (0.1-1-0-0-0). WP: Johnson 1, Becs 2. Balk: Johnson 1.
Leading hitters — UG: Manteufel 3x4, Jocius 2x4. 2B: Manteufel 2, Erickson, Hansel. S — UG: Horon; M: Schreiber. SB — UG: Erickson 2, Manteufel 1, Clark 1, Sweet 1. CS — UG: Erickson 1.