Franklin baseball coach Jim Hughes knows his much younger team this summer is quite a bit different from the state championship units of the last two years, whose feats are emblazoned across the front of the Sabers' scoreboard.
Take for instance what happened the last two nights to Franklin. The Sabers were blanked 3-0 by Greater Metro Conference cellar-dweller West Allis Central on Monday, but then they turned around Tuesday night to beat visiting archrival and GMC runner-up Oak Creek, 6-0.
"We are a team that could go out and beat anybody we choose on any given night," Hughes said, "but we're also a team that can go out and lose to almost anybody out there too."
"Today was obviously much better than yesterday. Our plate discipline was much better than yesterday and we've had solid pitching. Only one team has scored more than five runs on us (a 7-3 loss to GMC leader Menomonee Falls), but we also have five one-run losses on the season."
But behind some timely hitting and the strong pitching of junior pitcher Tyler Gentz, it never got that far Tuesday night, as Franklin moved into a tie for third in the GMC at 10-8 in league play and 13-9 overall.
Meanwhile, the news was all bad for the Knights.
Falls' 7-1 win over West Allis Central along with the Knight loss clinched a tie for the GMC regular season title for the Indians. Falls finished the evening at 16-2 in league play and 22-2 overall while Oak Creek is currently 13-4 and 16-5 overall.
Further, outfielder and pitcher Austin Barbee may have been lost for the season after he dislocated his shoulder while trying to steal second in the third inning.
"It doesn't look good, it will be for quite awhile," said Knight coach Scott Holler, "but it will give other kids a chance to prove themselves."
Gentz certainly proved himself tonight. He struggled with his control early, but steadied himself in the second. He put down eight consecutive Knight batters from the third through the fifth and finished with eight strikeouts against four walks.
The key for him was that second inning.
The Knights had runners on second and third after freshman Doran Turchin got on with an infield single and then starting pitcher Brad Schulte doubled to put runners on second and third.
But then Gentz got Dakota Slone to strike out looking and Casey Magyar to ground out to short to end the threat.
The Knights would not seriously challenge Gentz again until the seventh inning when it was much too late.
"We had some opportunities early," said Holler. "If we had been able to get a couple of runs right away, it may have changed the way the game was played. Put some pressure on them and force them to respond."
"But give Gentz credit, he got the big outs when he needed them."
"The key was getting ahead in the count," sand Gentz, one of the few veterans left from the Sabers' 2011 state champs. "You try to sneak a fastball in for an early strike and then let the off-speed stuff do the rest."
Hughes was impressed.
"He (Gentz) has three good pitches, a fastball, a curveball and a change-up," said Hughes, "and he was very successful with the change-up tonight. Even when he fell behind in the count, he got back into it (with the change-up)."
Gentz then gave himself the lead for good in the third, as he cracked a two-run single up the middle. Later in the frame, Kyle Hoffmann added a run-scoring hit of his own to make it 3-0.
In the fourth, the Sabers added two more clinching runs. Lead-off hitter Jake Penegor had three hits on the night including two doubles and an RBI.
The Knights' last stand came in the seventh, as they put runners on second and third with two out, but then Gentz got Tanner Johnson looking for his eighth strikeout to end the game.
Oak Creek did get one bright spot in the sixth, as freshman pitcher Mitch Makarewicz relieved Schulte and struck out the side. Johnson had two hits for the Knights.
"We just weren't as focused as we should have been in certain situations," said Holler. "When they got that initial lead, we just had a hard time responding. We always talk about answering a big inning with one of our own, but we weren't able to do that tonight."
"But like Dean Smith (Hall of Fame former North Carolina men's basketball coach) said, 'It's just a game, not a life or death situation. If you make every game life or death, you're going to be dead a lot.'"
But for now, the Sabers have life pumped into themselves, especially as the WIAA sectional seeding meeting looms on Wednesday.
"This will certainly help," said Hughes. "It'll also help in the seeding for the (GMC) tourney too. We're trying to get into the top four (in the final league standings) so we can get a home game."
"This can only help our confidence," said Gentz. "We have a lot of new players out there who have to step up. This'll help them the next time around."
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