There won’t be a third consecutive state championship for the Franklin Sabers baseball team.
Visiting No. 11-seeded South Milwaukee upended the No. 3-seeded Sabers on Friday in the WIAA summer baseball regional final, 5-4. It was a game that won’t make much sense if you only look at the box score.
By the time the Rockets scored their fifth and final run, they had managed just one hit. Through four innings, Franklin led 4-0, starter Tyler Gentz had a no-hitter going, and the Sabers appeared poised to make another deep postseason run.
“I don’t know if I would have thought three hits would have been enough,” South Milwaukee head coach John Galewski said. “Not against that team. It may not have even been enough on a normal day. We made some really nice defensive plays. Being down to them like we were, high school baseball is a funny game and sometimes the ball bounces your way, and that’s what happened.”
In the fifth inning, the wheels fell off for Franklin. Gentz walked Alex Cramer to start and balked while facing Brad Hofer, who later reached base on an error. With runners at second and third and one out, South Milwaukee’s Cameron Bazan plated the Rockets’ first run on a fielder’s choice.
With two outs, the Sabers seemed close to limiting the damage. But after an RBI double from Taylor Johnson, a dropped third strike, two walks and a hit batsmanl, the Rockets grabbed a 5-4 lead.
“We gift-wrapped it,” Franklin head coach Jim Hughes said. “We had the third out several times. All five of those runs are unearned. The inning should have been over; they shouldn’t have had any runs. That’s why it was hard to take [Gentz] out. That’s the fourth time this year we’ve struck a guy out and had a guy score on us like that. I don’t know how that happens. They took advantage of all the mistakes we made, and that’s all it takes.”
If the Sabers gift-wrapped the game, South Milwaukee sophomore rightfielder Ben Zbikowski put the ribbon on it. In the bottom of the third and fifth innings, Zbikowski made spectacular diving catches, the latter of which killed a potential Franklin rally with the tying run on base. Galewski wasn’t concerned about Zbikowski potentially missing his dive and letting the runner score.
“Our outfielders have great speed,” Galewski said. “It’s a great strength for us and he’s made plays like that all year. To us, it’s not a surprise; I can promise you he’s had at least 10 of those this year.”
Cramer picked up the win in a relief effort, giving up just one hit after Zbikowski’s second diving catch. With one out, Franklin put the tying run in scoring position and had the winning run at first in the bottom of the seventh inning. But a line drive to second base was caught for an out, and with the runners in motion, the game-ending double play was made easily.
“It’s a tough way to go down,” Hughes said. “(Our kids) played pretty well all year. One inning’s not going to define our whole season. I told them it’s going to hurt for a while and then it’ll go away. That’s the way it is in sports.”
The Sabers finish the season 19-13 overall, while South Milwaukee stands at 14-18 and prepares to face No. 7-seeded West Allis Hale at sectionals. The Rockets face tall odds again, but that’s something they’re used to at this point, Galewski said.
“We played Franklin in the first game of the season,” Galewski said. “We are not the same team we were then. We’re very proud to be regional champs.”
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