By Dan Flaherty
The Oconomowoc Five-O's took their finest Tri-County Night League season in six years to the playoffs on Wednesday night, as they faced Kewaskum. But the postseason stay was short-lived, as the O's fell 5-3 in a high-quality semi-final game played in Brownsville.
Oconomowoc got off to a good start, scoring two runs in the top of the first. Chandler Ziemann and A.J. Ramirez, who combined for six hits on the night, each singled and moved up on a productive ground ball out to the right side by Jeff Rhoads. Then Derek Nelson picked up one RBI with a second consecutive productive ground ball out and Josh Bouche delivered a two-out single.
But Kewaskum, who stands atop the Rock River League standings in their weekend affairs, got settled in and starting pitcher Jim Ziegler was tough to handle, as he pounded the strike zone with his fast ball, pulled the string on his breaking stuff and made it impossible for anyone to get into comfortable rhythm at the plate. His team moved out to a 3-2 lead by the third, although after loading the bases with nobody out, Oconomowoc was relieved to still be within a run when the third inning ended.
The O's tied it up in the fifth. Ziemann singled to left, and Ramirez doubled to right when the outfielder lost the ball in the lights. Another productive out by Jeff Rhoads picked up the RBI, and it looked like Nelson was ready to do the same, but Kewaskum shortstop Ty Schill gunned Ramirez at the plate.
Justin Mortensen had come in relief for Oconomowoc with one out in the fourth and was settled in, as the game went to the seventh tied 3-3. But a bad break for the O's helped break the tie. A ground ball hit off of Mortensen and a would-be out turned into a cheap hit. There was nothing cheap about Kurt Zageski's double, but without the soft hit to start the inning, Zageski ends on second base instead of driving in the lead run.
Oconomowoc stood poised to tie the game in the eighth, with Nate Osterndorf on second base and two outs. Steve Rhoads lashed a single into left and Osterndorf correctly was sent home. But Kewaskum left fielder Dan Shea came up with a perfect throw to the plate to nail Osterndorf. Kewaskum added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning and was able to close out the win in the ninth, as Ziegler wrapped up a complete-game 130-pitch effort.
In the aftermath it was difficult to get past events in the top of the seventh, when the score was still tied 3-3. In order, Steve Rhoads was called out on a third strike where he'd checked his swing and the base umpire, situated at first, had no angle to overrule the call on the left-handed hitting Rhoads. Then Ziemann was called out at first where he'd clearly beaten the play by a good step. Finally, on a full count, Nelson was rung up on a pitch well inside. Kewaskum can and would argue that calls went both ways, but none were of this consequence, as the calls effectively stripped an inning out of Oconomowoc's night.
But give Kewaskum their due-they made great defensive plays, got strong pitching and their track record tells you it's no fluke. "It was a high-intensity game," Jeff Rhoads said afterward. "The kind we'll see in the LOL going forward."
And forward is exactly where Oconomowoc is looking. They close the regular season on Saturday against Menomonee Falls. The 2 PM game at Roosevelt Field will settle homefield advantage for next Saturday's first-round game, likely between the same two teams.