-by Dan Flaherty
The Fourth of July weekend was a celebration of the past and the present as the high-flying Five-O's came home to Roosevelt Field for home dates with West Bend on Sunday and against Merton on the Fourth.
Sunday's game was an emotional day for the franchise, as past Five-O's great Steve Smith responded to an invitation by the front office and returned home to watch his old team in action. Few longtime O's fans could forget the way Smitty once dominated Monches at the old Cow Pasture, or his legendary opposite-field double in extra innings that beat Brookfield in a 1991 SWABA semi-final (well, actually one person who did forget all this was Smitty himself). Upon his introduction by the PA announcer, parents quietly told their children stories of his legend, and tough old men silently wept.
When it came time to play baseball, Oconomowoc and West Bend turned in an excellent game. The 7-Up drew first blood with a run in the first, but both Mike Bolson and Dorrell Washburn each settled in quickly and the pitchers controlled the pace of the game.
The O's were able to manufacture runs in the fifth to break through. Jeff Rhoads laid down a bunt single. Then Derek Nelson executed the hit-and-run to perfection, chopping a bouncer through the vacated hole at second, and sending Rhoads to third. After a walk to Sean Smith loaded the bases, Steve Rhoads came to the plate. He got a pitch to hit and ripped the ball to left center. It had the look of a bases-clearing double, but was run down in center. But it was still enough to tie the game as Jeff scored easily from third. Pete Schlosser then singled to center to put Oconomowoc on top. After a manufactured rally like that, Whitey Herzog was smiling somewhere.
The teams traded runs and it went to the bottom of the eighth at 3-2. Oconomowoc stepped up and manufactured another run. Bolson crushed a pitch over the left field fence. After a manufactured rally like that, Harvey Kuenn was smiling somewhere. The O's tacked on one more for good measure, and Bolson slammed the door in the ninth for the win.
The Fourth of July matchup with Merton went considerably easier. The O's sent Rob Becker to the mound. And the righthander was dominant from the outset. On a day where he later said he didn't have his best offspeed stuff, he kept the Amvets off-balance by altering speeds on his fastball and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. The Oconomowoc bats made it an easy day by scoring four runs in the first and two in the third, and the outcome was never in doubt, as they celebrated the nation's birthday with a 7-0 win.
By the time the fireworks were going off, Oconomowoc had a 10-1 division record and holds a two-game lead on both Falls and Hartland. They need only finish ahead of one of the rivals to earn a first-round bye for the playoffs. There remain concerns for the team to deal with-it's been rumored in the national press that Mike Eppler's contract has placed exorbitant pressure on the team budget, and Jeff Rhoads may need to shed other players before the trade deadline to cut salary. But with three talented pitchers on hand in Nelson, Bolson and Becker, while the rivals scrape for even a second arm, the O's are uniquely positioned to be the Boys of August this time around.
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