JANESVILLE — The beautiful thing about baseball is that the game isn’t over until every out is recorded.
The Janesville baseball team found themselves in a deep hole at home against Nashua-Plainfield in a non-conference tilt Thursday night. Though the Huskies had a 9-1 lead after 2½ innings, the Wildcats showed a lot of fight to eventually pull within a run after six.
After N-P scored in the top of the seventh, Janesville had the bases loaded, with the winning run on base, and one out. But Huskies closer Dylan Downing forced an infield fly from Jared Hoodjer and then struck out Leo Dodd to escape with a 14-12 victory.
N-P head coach Levi Miller said the Huskies had to earn that win.
“I thought we competed our tails off,” Miller said. “At the same standpoint, give a lot of credit to Janesville. They’re a very good team, and they did not give up on it.
“They could’ve cashed in at 9-1 and called it good, but they kept on fighting, therefore our guys had to keep on fighting. It was a heck of a game and really, really fun to compete in.”
Wildcat skipper Derick Ludwig was glad about how his players performed against adversity.
“I’m really glad that we had a competitive game, too, and that’s how we’re going to learn,” Ludwig said. “We’re learning every single game, and we’re just trying to get better every single game, and games like that are opportunities for us to get better.
“We find our errors and we find our places where we need to improve, and we find our strengths, too.”
N-P (7-6) started the game loading the bases on a single to left-center by Kristian Holmvig and fielder’s choices off the bats of Austin Bienemann and Shane Hillesheim, where each time, Holmvig and Bienemann beat the throw to second base. After an infield fly, Blaine Bilharz grounded to short that forced out HIllesheim, but on the play, both Holmvig and Bienemann scored when the pivot for the potential double play was late at first.
The Wildcats (6-2-1) got one back in the bottom half of the first. Dodd walked and stole second to open the inning and advanced third on a Joey Carlson single that went past Holmvig at second. Spencer Hoff then drove in Dodd with a sacrifice fly to left to narrow the gap to 2-1.
But then the Wildcats sent 11 to the plate in the top of the second to score six to take an 8-1 advantage. Michael Stille, Dylan Downing and Sam Funderman all walked to load the bases against Wildcat starter Christian Mauer, and then Holmvig drove home Stille and Downing with a single to right.
After Holmvig stole second, Shane Hillsheim smacked a double to left to bring Funderman and Holmvig to the dish. That chased Mauer after 1-plus inning, and Hoff moved to the mound from first base.
Hoff struck out Hillesheim, but then committed a throwing error trying to pick off Bienemann to put him on third base. He then scored after beating a throw home from Hoodjer off the bat of Max Hillegas to make the score 7-1. Luke Harrington then brought home Hillegas on a single to left to cap the scoring in the inning.
The Wildcats had a two-out rally in the bottom half, but Huskies’ starter Hillesheim caught Hoodjer leaving second too early and picked him off as he tried to return to the bag. N-P then added a run in the top of the third with a single by Hillegas to plate Bienemann.
In the last half of the third, Janesville started its comeback. Hoff started with a single up the first-base line, and then Dawson Charley and Ben McGrath walked to load the bags. Wiley Sherburne and Keegan Eastman each got hit to force home runs, and then Blake Destival walked to score a third in the inning.
Hoodjer then hit a grounder to Bienemann, but the Husky shortstop mishandled the ball to allow Sherburne to score on the error. Dodd then wore Hillesheim’s final pitch of the outing to bring home Eastman to narrow the gap to 9-6. Holmvig then swapped places to strike out Carlson and force Hoff to fly to left to end the frame.
N-P got three runs back in the fourth. Harrington singled, Stille walked, and then Downing singled to left-center to drive home Harrington. Both he and Stille advanced when the throw in from the outfield went awry.
Hoff then struck out Fundermann but walked Holmvig. Stille scored on a wild pitch, and then an errant pick-off throw to first allowed Downing to come home for the 12-6 lead. The Huskies then added another run in the fifth on a bases-loaded walk by Fundermann to score Hillegas with two out.
Down 13-6 but undaunted, the Wildcats sent 10 to the batter’s box in the bottom of the fifth. Destival walked, and after a flyout, Dodd walked, and Carlson singled to short left to load the bases. Hoff then brought home Destival and Dodd. Charley then singled down the left-field line to bring in Carlson.
McGrath walked, and following a strikeout, Eastman walked to load the bases again. Destival then hit a fly ball to Fundermann in center, but he dropped the ball, allowing Charley and McGrath to score. However, the inning ended when he was able to cut down Eastman trying to go first to third, but the score was 13-12 going into the final inning.
In the top half of the last frame, Bilharz led off with a single, and Harrington reached on an error. Following an infield fly and a flyout to center, Funderman loaded the bases with a walk. Holmvig then took an RBI base on balls to give the Huskies the two-run lead to carry over to the bottom of the seventh.
Downing walked McGrath and Sherburne to start the inning, and then Eastman bunted them both over on the sacrifice. Destival then took a four-pitch walk to stuff the sacks. However, Hoodjer hit an infield popup to Bienemann to invoke the infield-fly rule, and Dodd struck out on seven pitches to end the game.
The Wildcats managed just five base hits in the game but took 12 walks and were hit four times by N-P pitchers. Ludwig said how they came back is another learning opportunity.
“You don’t have swing at every single strike,” he said. “You can wait and wait for the pitch that you’re going to do some damage with. We kind of talked about that and kind of switched our approach at the plate, and that’s kind of how baseball works.”
Miller felt his pitchers lost their control.
“We struggled to find the strike zone,” he said. “It was a reflection of that we were just struggling on the mound, and what we tell our guys is even if you don’t have your best stuff, you have to go out there and compete, you have to find a way to make pitches to get out of the game no matter how ugly it might get. That’s exactly what we did today.
“I think we might have walked or hit around 17 guys, and for us to still get out with a W says a lot to our guys’ grit.”
Through the struggles, Holmvig still managed the win in relief. He threw 3 2/3 innings, allowing four earned runs on three hits, walked three, plunked one and struck out two. Hillesheim lasted 2 1/3 while allowing six earned on two hits, seven walks, three hit batters and four Ks.
Downing got the save, working one inning without a run or a hit while walking three and fanning one.
Mauer took the loss on the hill for Janesville. He lasted one-plus inning giving up seven runs on three hits with three walks and no strikeouts. Hoff threw 3 1/3, allowing five earned runs on two hits, three walks, a hit batsman and five Ks. Eastman mopped up the final 2 2/3, giving up two earned on two hits, three walks and no strikeouts.
Miller said one takeaway from the game with Janesville is that the Huskies are a dangerous offensive team.
“All throughout the three games this week, we put up 11 runs on Monday, seven (on Wednesday) and 14 tonight,” he said, “so offensively, we don’t change anything.
“Defensively, we need to stay sharp, and it is hard when we’re walking a lot of guys, because mentally, it’s hard to stay in it. It’s still no excuse. Pitching-wise, if we throw strikes and we compete in the zone, we’ll be fine.”
Ludwig likes where the Wildcats are at this point in the season.
“I feel awesome,” he said. “I feel blessed to have this opportunity, because these kids, they’re awesome kids, willing to learn, they want to work, it’s a great opportunity for all of us.”