By Dan Flaherty
The Land O'Lakes schedule reached the first turn on Sunday, as the Oconomowoc Five-O's easily beat North Lake 17-1 in a game that got out of hand quickly and was run-ruled after seven innings. The Five-O's have completed one-third of the league schedule, and at 4-2 are squarely in contention in the Western Division race.
Oconomowoc has been driven all year to disprove media types who opined they might be a dying dynasty. And at moments like a tough loss at Merton, the critics were howling. But there have been many more moments where the critics have had to silently eat their words. In addition to last Sunday, there was the 11-1 win over highly regarded West Bend a week ago, a team many LOL observers believe is capable of going the distance. Even a frustrating one-run loss at Pewaukee looks pretty good, considering it was on the road and Pewaukee is near the top of the standings. Oconomowoc is mostly beating the teams it should, and showing how good it can be against the league's upper crust.
The team's veteran core of star talent, led by Jeff Rhoads, Luke Nelson, and Derek Nelson have all produced, going a dazzling 48-for-110 combined (a statistic that includes Tri-County Night League games) and you can add to that group Josh Bouche, who plays first base and catcher and whose .568 slugging percentage have added another power threat. Nate Osterdorf provides speed and defense in center field, and Steve Rhoads continues to provide a steady presence at third base. We would also add in here that Chandler Ziemann has 17 hits and is challenging for the LOL batting title, but Chandler tends to be embarrassed at mention of individual numbers.
What no one is embarrassed at is the caliber of pitching Oconomowoc has been getting. When Rob Becker was lost for the season after shutting down Monches in the season opener, the pitching was a big question mark. Chris Fischer has provided stability on the mound, consistently throwing strikes, chewing up innings and in his latest outing, efficiently chewing up North Lake on just 87 pitches to complete seven innings. When you throw strikes in LOL play you give yourself and the team a chance to win and Fischer has done just that.
Now the next big segment of the season begins. Oconomowoc will start play in the SWABA tournament tonight in Johnson Creek, and then they play back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday in LOL play, visiting Brookfield on Saturday and hosting Lannon on Sunday. Brookfield is an exceptionally well-balanced team, currently in first place and likely the team to beat. Lannon is a team similar to Oconomowoc in that some where proclaiming their best years to be behind them. But unlike Oconomowoc, the Stonemen have yet to deliver a slap back and say "Not so fast my friend." They are at 2-4 and Sunday's game will bea must-win.
It's not just LOL play that offers championship promise in Oconomowoc. The team has played well in Tri-County Night League action, currently in third place with a 4-2 record. The TCNL has been a place where we've seen talent like Drew Taylor, whose gone 4-for-7 at the plate and tossed five scoreless innings on the mound. If you get a chance to make a midweek trip west of town, the night league games have produced good, competitive baseball in the kind of relaxing environment that is engendered by the calming presence of team matriarch Nancy Rhoads.
The coming weeks will be decisive. Starting on June 16 and going through July 4, Oconomowoc will play seven LOL games and by then we'll know if a championship run could be in the works for August and September. If the first third of the season means anything, it can still be a summer to remember in the friendly confines of Roosevelt.