The Oak Creek baseball team has won the last two Greater Metro Conference regular season titles only to see someone else pull out the league tournament crown.
Now the Knights have a chance to reverse those fortunes as they rode the strong arm of freshman pitcher Mitch Makarewicz and some opportunistic play to defeat archrival Franklin, 6-2, in a GMC tourney semifinal Thursday night held at a sweltering Abendschein Park.
"I've always thought that the regular season tells the true tale of the tape," said Knight coach Scott Holler, "but they've put this opportunity (the tournament) in front of us the last few years. ...We haven't been able to win it since, but maybe we'll win it this time around."
The Knights will (22-6) will get that opportunity Friday night back at Abendschein at 5:30 p.m. against Muskego (19-10) which upset regular season champ Menomonee Falls, 6-3, Thursday night.
The two teams split their regular season games, with the Warriors taking the first contest, 8-2, and Oak Creek the second round, 8-3.
Meanwhile, Franklin (17-11) will visit Falls for a tourney consolation game Friday night.
Holler has been impressed with how the Knights have responded to the loss last week of senior outfielder/pitcher Austin Barbee. Despite Barbee being limited to just some rare pinch-hitting roles due to a shoulder injury, Oak Creek has won six of seven games since the injury occured, which just so happened to be a 6-0 loss to Franklin back on June 26.
In the rotation, Holler has used a committee to replace the innings that Barbee ate up and tonight, Makarewicz got the call. He was the lone bright spot in the June 26 loss to the Sabers, as he struck out the side in the sixth inning in that game.
How did he react when he was told by Holler that he was going to get the call in this pivotal game against an archrival?
"I was excited," he said. "Nothing was bothering me. Not the heat (98-plus degrees at game-time), not anything. In fact, it (the heat) just gave me some extra motivation. '
"It was a pretty good feeling that coach had confidence in me, considering I'm just a freshman."
Makarewicz pitched four strong innings, giving up just three hits with four strikeouts and two walks. He mixed a strong fastball ("It was working really well today," he said) with a solid breaking ball. He left the game with a 2-0 lead and earned the win.
"For him to go out there and take the ball in that situation and be absolutely fearless for four innings is just a real credit to him (Makarewicz)," said Holler. "We had a feeling that the game was going to be low-scoring and he just went out there and commanded the strike zone."
"He did as we tell all our pitchers to do: Throw strikes and let the defense do the work."
It was a mantra that might have served the Sabers well this night. Franklin ace Evan Kruczynski, who looked great in beating Falls last week, struggled with his command this night (six walks and five strikeouts in four-plus innings of work).
Two walks and a hit batter helped the Knights take the lead for good in the fourth without benefit of a hit, as Tanner Johnson, who had walked, scored on a groundout by Matt Hargreaves, and then later Matt Bautch, who had also walked, scored on a wild pitch.
Senior Kahler Cox, who had pitched three innings just two days before in Oak Creek's tourney quarterfinal win over West Allis Hale, took over for Makarewicz in the fifth. He immediately benefitted from a 6-4-3 doubleplay turned by shortstop Casey Magyar, second baseman Hayden Krimmer and first baseman Riley Shelton.
"They made all the plays tonight and didn't walk anybody," Franklin coach Jim Hughes said. "We had to earn everything we were going to get."
Kruczynski walked two more and allowed a single to Magyar to load the bases in the bottom of the fifth and then was lifted for Kyle Hoffmann. Krimmer then greeted Hoffmann with a sharp single to right that scored two more runs.
The Knights added two more insurance runs in the frame including an RBI groundout by Bautch.
After a one-two-three sixth, Cox ran into a little trouble in the seventh as a pair of walks and a throwing error (the Knights only miscue of the game) allowed two runs to score. A pop-out to short ended the threat and the game, however, as Cox picked up the save.
"It isn't always pretty, but Kahler will get the job done," said Holler.
Hughes was disappointed with the showing.
"Obviously not a good day for us," he said. "We were also swinging at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone which didn't help."
Meanwhile, Holler has reason to be heartened as the Knights now look for their first GMC tourney title Friday night.
"This was a great team win," he said. "...It's always a great rivalry (with Franklin). A real throw the records out the door kind of thing. Just two quality programs who battle all the time."
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