Polar Bears walk off in 10th inning
By Erik Buchinger
The Hortonville baseball team won the regional championship with a 2-1 win over Neenah in 10 innings on Thursday, May 31.
Hortonville senior Ben Gocker scored the game-winning run and said it was a fun atmosphere to play in especially in the later innings.
“Overall, it was a great team effort,” Gocker said. “It was exciting, the fans were really loud and really wanted us to win. It was a marathon game, and eventually we came out with the win.”
In the bottom of the 10th inning, Gocker pinch hit for Tristan Seaman, and after a walk, Gocker advanced to third base on a sacrifice bunt and a fly out.
With a 3-1 count, Lucas Wenzel hit a ground ball to the shortstop, who bobbled it, and Wenzel beat the throw, as Gocker scored from third for the game winner.
“All I wanted to do was just put it in play,” Wenzel said. “I had to make the defense make the play, and it worked out.”
Gocker said he was confident when he stepped to the plate for his first at bat of the game in the 10th inning.
“I wasn’t expecting to go in, but Yeager called me in and of course I’m going to be ready whenever he asks,” Gocker said. “I wasn’t trying to do too much at the plate and got walked, made my way to third, and Luke came up with a clutch hit.”
After two scoreless innings, Hortonville got on the board with a run in the bottom of the third inning on an infield chopper from Jase Krull to score Kyle Stuewer to give the Polar Bears a 1-0 lead.
In the first six innings, Hortonville’s sophomore pitcher Mason Thiel did not allow a run, and Neenah had just four batters reach base.
“I though I did pretty good,” Thiel said. “I struggled with the second pitch curveball, but I got it together at the end, and Drew saved us so it was all good.”
After a pair of singles in the top of the seventh inning, Thiel was relieved by Drew Lauterborn.
Thiel finished with six innings pitched and allowed one run on four hits and one walk with four strikeouts in a no decision. He said he was anxious leading up to the game.
“I was nervous, but I was just going in there ready to throw some strikes,” Thiel said. “It all worked out in the end.”
The Rockets tied the game at one with a wild pitch, but Hortonville got out of the inning with the game still tied.
The Polar Bears had their leadoff batter on in the bottom of the seventh, but he was left stranded to force extra innings.
The first two batters reached for Neenah in the eighth, and the Rockets had two base runners on with one out in the 10th, but Lauterborn did not allow a run in his four innings of relief.
“I was biting my nails, chewing my lips, I needed some seeds,” Thiel said about watching the rest of the game from the dugout. “I was going nuts, I’ll admit it.”
When Wenzel beat the throw to score Gocker in the 10th inning, players stormed out from the dugout to celebrate the victory.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet, but it’s definitely awesome,” Gocker said. “Everyone was charging, and there was a big dog pile out in the field, water was drenched on us. It was awesome. Great win.”
Hortonville will advance to play Kimberly at Appleton East in the sectional semifinal game on Tuesday, June 6 at 1 p.m. If the Polar Bears win, they would play either West De Pere or Oshkosh West later that day at 4 p.m. for a spot in the state tournament.
“Last year we got to sectionals but unfortunately came up short,” Gocker said. “We feel confident with who we have as a team right now, and we think we can do good down the road.”