-by Dan Flaherty
With their record even at 1-1, the Five Os began Tri-County play on Friday night in Hustisford with a matchup against Slinger. The O's fell behind early 1-0, as Slinger put five baserunners on in the first two frames. But a line drive double-play helped bail Oconomowoc out and keep the game tight. And in the top of the third, Slinger would pay for missed opportunities. Jeff Rhoads came to the plate and drilled a three-run shot to center field to trigger a four-run outburst and Oconomowoc was never threatened thereafter.
Starting pitcher Kirk Ressler settled in after surviving the first two innings. With the mound as his painter's stool, Ressler crafted a portrait of pitching artistry, painting an exquisite gem, in which Slinger could muster only one hit from the third to the eighth frames. Oconomowoc meanwhile, seized the opportunity to expand its margin. A clutch two-out, two-run single from Josh Fenzl expanded the lead to 6-1. An insurance run was tacked on in the seventh. After a strikeout pitch went wild, Bob Bolson took off for first. When that throw went wild, Bolson found himself on third. He scored on a single by Rhoads. Slinger scored twice in the ninth, as Ressler crossed the 140-pitch barrier for the evening in completing his masterpiece.
It was an easy win for the O's on a night when both lineups dealt with a strike zone whose correlation to the one outlined in the rule book was not always apparent. And Bolson's odd triple wouldn't be the last time this weekend, Oconomowoc used unorthodox means to muster extra bases. For just thirty-six hours later, they were on the planes east to Lannon.
If one drives down Lannon Road and approaches Memorial Park from the south, the last intersection one passes is called Hemlock Drive. Perhaps appropriate, given this trip has been pure poison for Western Division teams down through the years. But on this day, it would be the Stonemen choking on the same deadly drink they have so often served to others.
The day didn't start off unusual. Lannon got two runs in the second on three hits and added another pair in the fourth, when Bob Manders delivered a two-run single with two outs and two strikes. Ron Koslowski had the collar on the O's offense, giving up only a lone single through four innings. This writer casually turned to a fellow fan and declared-"I think we're talking ballgame." But the day was just beginning.
Mike Eppler stood on second base with two outs. Jeff Rhoads singled to center, and audaciously tried for second. He made it by a hair as the shortstop could not scoop the throw.. Had he been thrown out, the run would not have scored in time and the inning over. Instead the O's were on the board and the heart of the order still to come. The bobbled throw, and Rhoads' gamble were the type of subtle maneuvers that can alter the course of a game. Derek Nelson then doubled to right and suddenly it was a 4-2 game. Sean Smith and Mike Mitchell would then make another type of subtle maneuver that can alter the course of a game-each hit a massive two-run bomb and Oconomowoc led 6-4.
Koslowski was clearly tiring, and it was now the O's Rob Becker who was firing the poison pellets from the mound. Becker delivered a gutsy seven innings, clearing the 130-pitch mark and handed the lead over to Derek Nelson. Oconomowoc added two more runs in the top of the eighth, cashing in two walks, and a hit batsmen for one run. Then they got a gift run, on a dropped fly ball.
The Stonemen got a run in the eighth, and it might have been more, if not a heroic defensive play in centerfield by Paul Gephart who made a diving catch of a scorching line drive off the bat of Scott Doffek. In the top of the ninth, Mitchell singled to left with one out. Steve Rhoads drew a walk. Kevin Raasch reached on an error. With two outs, Gephart was at the plate. A popup toward second base made it look as though the inning was over, and the fans focused themselves what was surely to be a gutwrenching ninth. But near the foul line the ball was dropped, and it bounced into foul territory. Three Lannon players stopped and stared at the ball, which was initially touched in fair territory. As though oblivious to what was going on around them, the Stonemen didn't pick up the ball, while the umpire signaled fair ball. The bases were cleared. By the time the ball was thrown in, Gephart was on third. And when the throw went wild, he raced home for the unlikeliest of grand slams. It was 12-5. And it would end that way.
In the course of history, hemlock's most famous victim is the Greek philosopher Socrates, sentenced by a court to consume it. On Sunday the venomous drink claimed another victim. For Lannon, poison came in the form of six errors. And as Oconomowoc capitalized and administered last rites, they now stand in position to contend for the Western crown.
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