-by Dan Flaherty
It was a bitter cold day in Sussex as the dawn of May and the opening of Land O' Lakes baseball arrived. And at game's end, the weather reflected the mood in the Five O's dugout, as the underdog Cardinals stole an 11-10 upset victory to start the 2005 season.
The day started well when, after two men were out, Sean Smith followed a walk with a two-run home run, to give Oconomowoc the lead. Sussex quickly countered with three in their own half of the frame and tacked on another deuce in the second to open a 5-2 cushion. Jeff Rhoads answered for the O's, hitting the team's second two-run blast to cut the lead to 5-4. In the bottom of the third, the sleet began to hit the field, and the Cardinals' Steve Loiselle bounced a pitch through the infield to make it 6-4. The game was temporarily halted, as the pounding sleet gave the field the look of Lambeau Field in a late afternoon December game, with bits of white shining off the grass.
With the weather looking like something Brett Favre ought to have been playing in, the O's imitated the feistiness of the veteran signal-caller and battled back. In the fifth inning they loaded up the bases with two outs. Kevin Raasch ripped a towering shot towards left field that found the corner and brought in two runs, tying the game at 8-8. It was one of three hits on the day for Raasch, who helped trigger the offense from the #9 hole.
After five innings, a trimmed-down Derek Nelson came in to pitch and the Sussex offense was slowed. The O's nudged out to a 10-9 lead when the heartbreaking bottom of the ninth arrived. With one out, a bad-hop single put the tying run aboard. After a walk, a throwing error on a would-be double-play ball brought in the tying run, before Nick Ghelfi and Seth Kronke hit back-to-back singles to bring around the game-winner.
Amidst the difficult loss, the O's could point to bright spots. In addition to Raasch's offensive production, the trio of Rhoads, Nelson and Smith, hitting 2-3-4, went 7-for-14, including the two home runs. And Nelson did not give up an earned run in his 3 2/3 innings of work.
The conditions and result of the game hearkened back to a Michigan-Ohio State football game in 1950. That game, played in a blizzard, resulted in a fluky upset victory by the Wolverines to earn a Rose Bowl bid. It is known in history as the day “roses bloomed in the snow.” And in that spirit, the O's search the snows of a tough loss for signs of hope as they prepare to face Monches next week at Roosevelt
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