By Dan Flaherty
The Oconomowoc Five-O's arrived in West Bend on Friday night a reeling ballclub, having suffered four straight losses, three of them in decisive fashion. The media pressure was building, with the potential of the Five'O's demise being fodder for talk show hosts, bloggers and national columnists. But as the saying in baseball goes, momentum is about the next day's pitcher. And Oconomowoc starter Chris Fischer led a complete team effort that delivered a thrilling 8-7 win over a good West Bend team and put the O's season back on track.
West Bend threatened to get on the board early, but a potential run was cut down at the plate by a relay combo of left fielder Bob Bolson and third baseman Luke Nelson. It was the first of several good defensive plays by Oconomowoc on this night, who were also energized by the arrival of shortstop AJ Ramirez. On his way to play baseball at USC's prestigious program, Ramirez put on a dazzling display of range and glovework and added a new dimension to the team.
Oconomowoc got a run in the second when Bolson doubled to left and Jeff Rhoads knocked him in with a two-out single. Then they added three in the fourth. Derek Nelson was hit by a pitch, Nate Osterndorf doubled and Steve Rhoads picked up an RBI on a broken-bat single where the wood sawed off so thoroughly-nearly hitting a cameraman from a local newspaper--that one might have sworn Rhoads had just hit a Mariano Rivera cutter. Chandler Ziemann doubled to left to complete the rally.
With a 4-0 lead, Fischer was settled in and while they were some balls hit hard, the starter did not walk a single batter in his six-plus innings of work and the Oconomowoc defense got the job done behind him. Fischer threw shutout ball threw five and it was still 4-2 as the game headed into the seventh.
Jeff Rhoads homered to left in the top of the seventh. In the bottom half of the inning, Steve Rhoads came on in relief of Fischer with two on and one out and West Bend was only able to get one run. But the bottom of the eighth made it look like this otherwise well-played game on a beautiful summer night would have an unfortunate ending. West Bend couldn't hit Rhoads, but the Five-O's veteran celebrating his 42nd birthday was capable of hitting them. Three hit batsmen, an infield hit and a couple of productive outs from West Bend gave them three runs and a 6-5 lead in the ninth.
Things looked bleak, as West Bend pitching had been mostly settled in since the three-run fourth, but in the press box we mused that if Oconomowoc could extend the game, West Bend hadn't yet proven they could hit Rhoads. And the vet's brother bailed him out, leading off the top of the ninth with another home run to left. With two outs, it looked like we were heading to the bottom of the ninth with a tie game. But, as Leslie Nielsen said in The Naked Gun...."my night was just beginning."** Josh Bouche was thinking long ball when he came to the plate and given his capability, some of us were thinking the same thing. But it was more important to extend the inning, so he coolly took a 2-1 pitch and ripped a line drive single to right. Then Nate Osterndorf hit a long drive down the right field line. The ball bounced near the line. To some it was clearly fair. To others it looked foul. The umpire came down on the side of "fair", and Osterndorf ended up with an RBI triple that gave Oconomowoc the lead. Steve Rhoads came to the plate and gave himself some insurance with a line drive back through the middle to make it 8-6.
The bottom of the ninth wasn't without interest. Rhoads continued to own the inner half of the plate with a hit batsmen, and combined with an infield hit and single to left, West Bend continued to manage runs without hitting Rhoads very hard. But with two outs, Rhoads reared back and with the bottom of the order up, just challenged hitters on the outside part of the plate and after a foul ball, two straight swinging strikes ended the game. Two years ago in West Bend, Rhoads got a complete-game win on his 40th birthday. Tonight he had three hits and two innings where nothing was hit hard. West Bend is rumored to want future visits by Oconomowoc scheduled sometime other than the latter part of June.
In our preview of the weekend that reflected on Oconomowoc's recent slide, we drew on a movie reference to Godfather II in saying player-manager Jeff Rhoads felt like Michael Corleone after an assassination attempt. Now we move ahead to third installment of the epic mafia trilogy for a quote that surely summarizes what the rest of the league is thinking after another O's bounceback-"Every time we think they're out, they pull themselves back in."
Brookfield comes to town on Sunday. Drop by Roosevelt Field for a 1 PM start, as Oconomowoc, now secure again for a playoff push, tries to play its way back into a shot at first place.
**This is the scene were Nielsen, playing Frank Drepin, arrives home to find Priscilla Presley in his kitchen, and he slips into something more comfortable-a suit and tie, and goes on to share the time-honored problem of a previous relationship..."Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl. And girl dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day."