2016 featured championships
Area teams win state titles
By Greg Seubert
Local sports headlines in 2016 included WIAA state championships in baseball, track and football.
Waupaca won its first-ever baseball title June 16 after shutting out Milwaukee Lutheran 2-0 in the Division 2 championship in Grand Chute; Iola-Scandinavia’s Erika Kisting won the girls’ Division 3 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs and Wild Rose returned home with a pair of Division 3 800-meter relay titles and a boys’ co-championship in June at the WIAA State Track & Field Championships in La Crosse; and Amherst’s football team repeated as Division 5 champions Nov. 17 with a 38-35 win over Cedar Grove-Belgium at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
Going out on top
John Koronkiewicz coached Waupaca High School’s football team to Division 3 state championships in 2006 and 2008.
He can add the school’s first baseball title to that list as well.
The Comets handed Milwaukee Lutheran a 2-0 loss June 16 in the WIAA Division 2 state spring baseball championship game at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute. Waupaca fell to Milwaukee Lutheran 3-2 last year in a Division 2 sectional final and the Red Knights went on to win a state championship.
The Red Knights had a chance to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning, as Matthew Brandt scored on T.J. Walker’s single. However, several Waupaca fans sitting in front of third base told Koronkiewicz to appeal the play after Brandt didn’t touch the base while rounding it on his way home and the run was taken off of the scoreboard.
“That was a big play in the game,” Koronkiewicz said. “We have to give to our fans on this side credit because they were the ones who were calling out, ‘He missed third, he missed third.’ The umpire fortunately saw it as well. You take a run off the board, it makes a big difference in the game.”
Waupaca came up with what turned out to be the game’s only runs in the bottom of the third on RBI hits from Hayden Neidert and Jason Ellie. Ellie’s single scored Walker Smith, while Ellie came home on Neidert’s double.
Smith held the Red Knights to five hits to pick up his ninth win of the season without a loss and also had two of the Comets’ four hits.
Shortstop Johnny Popham was hitless in his seven trips to the plate in two games at state, but the North Eastern Conference player of the year didn’t seem to mind.
“I struggled a little in these last two games, but it’s awesome to see your team step up and make up for what you’re not doing,” he said. “It’s also a good feeling knowing that you don’t have to put the entire team on your back. You have guys that get the job on your team when other people aren’t.
“It’s an awesome feeling being able to end our baseball careers on a note like this,” he said. “A lot of these guys I’ve been with since I was 9 years old. We’ve had a bond being on the same baseball team for that long.”
Two firsts at state
Hundreds of athletes compete each year at the state track meet, but not many of them were as successful as Kisting.
The distance runner capped her sophomore season by winning the 1,600 in 5:15.21 and the 3,200 in 11:23.13.
Meanwhile, Wild Rose’s boys’ 800 relay team of Jeremy Lesniak, Paul Hernandez, Tyler Schmidt and Justin Ida and the girls’ 800 team of Mary Jenks, Ashley Caswell, Maya Dix and Breanne Marchan won championships with times of 1:32.05 and 1:45.95, respectively.
The Wild Rose boys went on to share the Division 3 team championship with Coleman and Marathon. All three teams finished first with 39 points.
Kisting, who placed second at state last year as a freshman in the 1,600, came into the state meet with the fastest qualifying times in both races.
Her first championship came in the 3,200 June 4.
She led the race from start to finish and edged Flambeau’s Rachel Lawton at the finish line by 0.03 of a second.
“I saw them on the screen coming behind me,” Kisting said. “She came really close. I’m just glad it came out how it did. I was thinking, ‘I got this.’ I knew I did my best.”
Kisting did not qualify for state in the 3,200 last year.
“It’s a tough race,” she said. “It’s more mental than anything else. You just have to think to yourself, ‘This is my race, I’m going to push it as much as I can and finish strong.’”
Kisting followed that performance up the next day in the 1,600 and finished almost two seconds ahead of runner-up Kassye Todd of Elmwood/Plum City.
“I knew I had to push it because there was good competition behind me,” she said. “Finishing first feels amazing. You have good competition throughout the year, so you have to keep increasing your speed, believing in yourself, having that mental confidence and then just pushing it in the end.”
Kisting prefers the 1,600 over the 3,200.
“If I had to choose, it’d be the 1,600,” she said. “I like it because it’s quick, but it’s also longer. (The 3,200) is all mental. You have to keep your mind focused on the race and not wander off.”
The area almost had another team championship at the meet, as Weyauwega-Fremont finished one point behind Cuba City in the Division 3 girls’ team standings.
Best foot forward
A break here, a break there and a rare field goal.
It all added up to a second straight state championship for the Amherst football team.
Carter Zblewski’s 26-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining snapped a 35-35 tie and gave the Falcons a 38-35 win over Cedar Grove-Belgium Nov. 17.
The win capped a 13-1 season for the Falcons and is the team’s third state title since 2012.
“That’s a heck of a win,” coach Mark Lusic said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Brandon Piotrowski’s 2-yard quarterback sneak and Zblewski’s extra point tied the game at 35-35 with 5:12 to go in the game, but the Falcons soon had the ball back following a turnover. Facing a second-and-10 at their own 29-yard line, the Rockets attempted a hook-and-ladder play. Josh Weiss completed a pass to Reid Hilbelink and Hilbelink attempted to lateral the ball to teammate Matt Dirkse. The ball landed on the Camp Randall turf, Amherst’s Thomas Andersen scooped it up and returned it 18 yards to set Amherst up at the Cedar Grove-Belgium 14-yard line with 54 seconds on the clock.
“They tried to run a trick play, they coughed it up and we were there,” Lusic said. “We saw (the play) on film and we were right there. He tried to lateral it and we picked it up.”
Piotrowski’s 6-yard pass to Marcus Glodowski gave Amherst a fourth-and-1 at the 5-yard line. Zblewski went in to attempt what would have been a 21-yard field goal with 15 seconds left, but a false start penalty on the Falcons moved the ball back 5 yards. Zblewski then connected on the Falcons’ first field goal of the season.
Both teams found the end zone on each of their first two drives. Weiss hooked up with Hilbelink for a 13-yard score to cap the game’s opening drive, but Amherst answered with Chandler Benn’s 1-yard run.
Weiss hit Hilbelink for a 7-yard score on the Rockets’ second drive and Benn tied the game with a 3-yard run with 31 seconds to go in the first quarter.
The Falcons took a 28-14 lead into the locker room at halftime thanks to a pair of scores in the final two minutes of the second quarter. Devin Ostrowski scored from 4 yards out with 1:51 to go in the half to cap an 11-play, 92-yard drive and the Falcons took advantage of a turnover before halftime. Glodowski intercepted a Jason von Heimburg pass and returned the ball 19 yards to the Cedar Grove-Belgium 30-yard line. Piotrowski found Josh Cisewski in the end zone on the next play for a 30-yard pass with 21 seconds remaining.
That two-score lead disappeared in the second half, as the Rockets scored three unanswered touchdowns to take a 35-28 lead. Weiss threw an 8-yard TD pass to Dirkse and an 11-yarder to von Heimburg in the third quarter and the Rockets regained the lead with Weiss’ 10-yarder to von Heimburg with 8:50 to go in the game.
Amherst tied the game on its next drive on Piotrowski’s 2-yard run. The Rockets took over on their own 30-yard line after Zblewski’s field goal, but Bryce Holderman ended any chance of a comeback with an interception on the game’s final play.
The Rockets outgained the Falcons 422-366. Ostrowski had 71 of Amherst’s 198 rushing yards, while Benn and Glodowski added 67 and 57, respectively. Piotrowski completed 10 of 15 passes for 168 yards and Josh Schude caught a team-high three passes for 43 yards.
“Our offensive line did a heck of a job,” Lusic said. “I don’t know how many yards rushing we had, but we had a lot.”
Weiss, who set the state record for touchdown passes this season, completed 36 of 51 passes for 383 yards and five TDs, all records for a WIAA state championship game. Hilbelink caught 14 passes for 164 yards and two scores, while Ethan Brochtup added 13 catches for 155 yards.
“That quarterback and those receivers were unbelievable,” Lusic said. “It was all we could handle.”
The championship is Amherst’s third title since 2012.
“A win’s a win,” Lusic said. “I’ll take them any way I can get them. People just don’t understand how hard it is. I keep telling the kids to not take this for granted. You have to have so many good players to get here. That team over there is unbelievable. I’m so proud of our guys.”