The wait for Jim Hughes and the Franklin baseball team is over. The state’s all-time win leader, coaching in his eighth state tournament, made his 748th career victory the best one of all as his Sabers defeated West Bend West, 11-4, in the championship game of the WIAA State Summer Baseball Tournament at Bukolt Park in Stevens Point on Thursday.
“This is the one thing we didn’t get,” said Hughes, whose team finished 30-14, the ninth 30-win season in school history. “We had a lot of kids come through the program that got really close. It’s for everybody that didn’t make it.”
Hughes’ only other title-game appearance came in 2000 when the Sabers lost to the Brookfield Central Lancers.
“You just keep going and figure you have the same chance everybody else has,” said Hughes, who told reporters after the game he will return to Franklin next season. “You never think that (you won’t win state). If you think that, you shouldn’t be in there. You gotta believe you can beat anybody.”
The Sabers proved they could do just that throughout the tournament, and especially in the final when the hammered West Bend West (35-3), a team that spent much of the season as the state’s top-ranked team, for 11 hits, many of which came in the first two innings.
In the first, Matt Sklander doubled in a run and Ryan Geil drove in another with a ground ball to give Franklin a quick 2-0 lead. It would not be the last time Sklander made his presence felt.
In the top of the second, the Sabers connected for seven solid hits. The first of two big blows was a two-run double by Jay Dirienzo, who took third on a throw to the plate and scored on an errant throw by the catcher to give his team a 7-0 lead.
“That was pretty big,” Dirienzo scored. “We scored (three) runs off that. That was huge to get off to that big lead. We were anxious. We really just wanted to go out and hit the ball, crush the ball.”
The next batter, Sklander, belted a solo home run to left.
“We were just trying to stay relax, just another game, and try to have fun,” said the senior, who added a two-run double in the sixth inning and finished 3-for-4 with four RBIs. “We tried to get our pitch to hit and put the ball in play. The last couple games, our approach at the plate has been phenomenal.”
The early cushion was enough for Geil (four innings, two hits, four runs) and reliever Marcus Schlemm (three innings, three hits, six strikeouts) to cruise against the heavy-hitting Spartans.
“Once you get to the state tournament, no one’s a slouch,” Sklander, the Sabers catcher said. “Everyone can hit the ball, everyone can pitch. To get two complete games like that was absolutely phenomenal. Ryan did a fantastic job for four innings, keeping the ball low and getting guys to ground out.”
Added Geil, the winning pitcher: “Our pitching has been doing real good at the end of the season, and our defense has definitely been really good. With Trevor (Thiessen) at shortstop, we turn so many double plays with him (two in the championship game), it’s awesome.”
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