The Rhinelander Post 7 Rebels baseball team had high hopes of winning it all after earning a trip to the American Legion Class AA State Championship Tournament, played August 3-7 at Rick Stuhr Memorial Field in Onalaska.
The Rebels were led by an experienced corps of veteran players, many of whom had been to the state tournament back when the Rebels won the trophy in 2010. Throughout the regular season, the Rebels, ranked as high as number two in state polls, won games with a combination of good pitching, timely hitting, and good defense. Those attributes were evident as the Rebels opened the tournament on Friday morning with a 9-1 victory over the New London Clippers. Troy White was the starting pitcher and fanned 13 Clippers, plus went 3-3 at the plate to help his cause.
The Rebels were riding high going into day two, but would have to wait, with all games being rained out as heavy showers began just after midnight and continued on into the late afternoon on Saturday in the Onalaska area, putting the infield underwater and forcing some reshuffling of the tournament schedule.
Day two resumed on Sunday and saw the Rebels’ bats come alive in a big way against the Sturgeon Bay, defeating the Bays 14-7. Joe Zuiker went 2-4 with a three-run homerun, a double, and 4 RBIs; Alex Henkel knocked in five on three singles. Lucas Michlig was 3-4 with two doubles, an RBI, and four runs scored. Kyle Comer allowed two runs in four innings pitched to get the victory.
The Rebels’ momentum, however, was derailed in their third game, game eleven of the tournament, as they matched-up with the number-one ranked team in Class AA, Holmen. In the matchup, the Rhinelander bats were silenced by Holmen starter Greg Rooney, who pitched seven strong innings, allowing just one run on three hits, walking one and striking out nine. Kyle Comer provided the only run for Post 7 with a line-drive homerun to left field, but Holmen prevailed 5-1.
Despite the loss, the Rebels still had a chance in the double-elimination tournament, and coach Huhnstock was optimistic.
“I told them [after Monday’s loss] that we’re still a good enough team to win this tournament. We have to come out with a better attitude tomorrow, a more aggressive attitude, and play our kind of baseball.”
It was make-or-break time on Tuesday for the Rebels as they came into their fourth game, game 12 of the tourney, needing to win against the Menasha Twins to stay alive. Some missed opportunities and shaky defense allowed the Twins to defeat the Rebels by a final score of 5-3, despite a long two-run homerun to the opposite field by starting pitcher Kyle Comer, over a 15-foot fence in right, off the roof of a neighboring duplex. The Rebels didn’t quit, scoring once in the bottom of the seventh and eventually had the tying run on base and the winning run at the plate with two outs, but Twins left-handed reliever John Quigley got the final out to earn the save for Menasha and put an end to the Rebels’ season.
The Rebels finished the tournament 2-2. Despite coming up short in their quest for a state championship, Huhnstock was nonetheless proud of his team.
“You know, a break here, a break there, we could be playing on [in the tournament] very easily. We’re a quality team, along with all the rest of the teams down here.”
Holmen would go on to defeat Onalaska and Menasha to win the Class AA state championship.
Three Rebels were selected to the all-tournament team, including Comer, Joe Zuiker and Luke Michlig. Michlig was the tournament’s top hitter, with a .615 average, three doubles, an .846 slugging percentage, and 11 total bases.
Overall for the season, the Rebels finished 20-7, and, despite falling short of their ultimate goal, Huhnstock again was proud of his team’s efforts during the season.
“It was a very exciting season, very much fun.” said Huhnstock. “This is a bunch of good, quality kids-there’s not much more you can say. It was fun.”