By Dan Flaherty
The Oconomowoc Five-O's may have concluded the Land O'Lakes League regular season on a down note Saturday, losing 4-3 to Menomonee Falls, but the good news is that they won't have to wait long to try and take revenge.The O's are scheduled to meet Falls in the first round of the playoffs this coming Saturday. It calls to mind a regular season/playoff rematch scenario that occurred in 1993 when the Green Bay Packers played the Detroit Lions in consecutive weeks. The O's will try and repeat the Packers' feat of rebounding from a regular season loss with a playoff win.
Falls got off to a quick start, with one run walked in with the bases loaded and building a 3-0 lead after three innings. Oconomowoc starting pitcher Chris Fischer settled in and didn't allow another hit until the seventh, but Falls hurler Jack Larson was dazzling. With good velocity on his fastball, a nasty slider and consistently around the plate, mounting a rally was more than challenging.
Oconomowoc broke through in the fifth when Luke Nelson delivered a two-out single to right, but the score remained 3-1 through eight and Falls then tacked on what would prove to be a huge insurance run in the ninth.
The O's had two outs and a man on second, when Nate Osterndorf and Andrew Bauer got aboard, cutting the margin to 4-2 and bringing up leadoff hitter Chandler Ziemann. He hit a line drive into the right-centerfield gap that had a tail on it, moving away from the center fielder, whose dive couldn't get there. Ostendorf scored, but Bauer had to be held at third. It was the third hit of the day for Ziemann, the one hitter who had consistent success against Larson. "I can only carry this lineup so far," Ziemann lamented after the game. "I swear there's drug mules out there who carried lighter loads than I did today." **
Larson was able to get the final out and finish off a 130-pitch complete-game effort that ensured Oconomowoc would open the playoffs on the road. On Sunday, Falls fell to Pewaukee, which set up the rematch in the 4 vs. 5 spot in the playoff bracket.
The storylines abound for the coming playoffs. Merton came oh-so-close to its first playoff berth, but fell at Lannon on Friday and dropped an 11-inning heartbreaker to West Bend on Saturday. That opened the door for Sussex who beat North Lake and then nearly looked a gift horse in the mouth with a narrow escape over Monches. The win earned Sussex the 6-seed and will get them a trip to Pewaukee on Saturday.
West Bend's win over Merton got them the coveted first-place finish, meaning if they don't win the tournament, they get a bounce-back game against the tournament winner to decide the ultimate LOL Western Division champion. The Brookfield Bulldogs are slotted in the #2 position, giving them a bye into Sunday's semi-finals, but no bounce-back opportunity.
It's been a balanced year in the LOL West, and Oconomowoc's season is proof of that. The O's turned their season around on June 22 with a win at West Bend, but went 0-3 against Falls & Pewaukee. The "any given Sunday" cliché is not only true for the NFL, it's true for the Western Division and that promises an exciting postseason.
The Five-O's first-round game with Falls is at 1:00 PM. If Oconomowoc can beat Falls they will travel to West Bend on Sunday if Pewaukee beats Sussex. If Pewaukee falls to Sussex, then Oconomowoc will travel to Brookfield on Sunday if they can beat Falls. The tournament final would then be Saturday, August 18. The only way Oconomowoc could be at home is if Sussex is the opponent. The O's would then look to complete their championship run on Sunday the 19th, back at West Bend.
So the playoffs start in Falls, but the road to the pennant goes through West Bend. When asked about his August plans, Steve Rhoads said "I plan on spending a lot of time up north." Some say he meant camping. Others think he means the hour-drive north to West Bend.
** We should note Chandler didn't actually say this with words, but he might have thought them. 21st century journalism standards allow direct attribution in these situations.