Rock River baseball: Canners beat Hawks, win fifth RRL title
After going 0-for-the-20th century in terms of championships, the Clyman Canners now have one for the thumb in the 21st.
Clyman erased a 1-0 series deficit in the best-of-three Rock River League grand championship finals with two wins over the weekend.
The Canners scored five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and two more in the eighth to beat the Hartford Hawks 8-5 in the decisive game at Stueber Field on Sunday. The win gave Clyman its fifth league championship dating back to 2000.
Clyman trailed in all three games against Hartford, but rallied to win the last two. The Southern Division champions went 17-1 during the regular season, then went 5-2 in the playoffs.
“I don’t think there has been many times this year where we’ve gotten down,” Clyman shortstop Clint Rose said. “You don’t want to be in that situation, but our team just battles. We’ve got really good chemistry. We just did the right things at the end of the game and came out on top. It was a good way to end it.”
Josh Oswald gave Clyman a 1-0 lead with a solo homer to right in the fourth inning.
Hartford tied it in the fifth when Bryce Patin singled to center and scored on shorstop Joe Seegers’ RBI double to right center. Third baseman Griffin Lukes gave the Hawks a 2-1 lead with a solo homer to left in the top of the sixth.
Clyman sent all nine batters to the plate during the go-ahead rally in the bottom of the frame against Hartford starter Jason Finley.
Nick Schmitt began the rally with a one-out single to left and Oswald followed with line drive to left center and hustled into second for a double to put runners at second and third.
That brought up catcher Ryan Kaul, whose low liner skipped off the glove of Lukes and sailed into foul territory in left for a two-run single to put the Canners up 3-2.
First baseman Dave McFarland continued the rally with a walk. After Tony Schmitt popped out on the infield, left fielder Shaun Wegner hit a two-run single to left to make it 5-2. Designated hitter Colin McBride capped the rally with an RBI single to left.
The rally gave Tony Schmitt his second decision over the weekend. After throwing 4 2/3 innings in relief to get the win at Hartford on Saturday, Schmitt came back the next day and threw six innings. He allowed two earned runs on five hits with two strikeouts and two walks.
Chase Davis relieved Schmitt over the next 1 1/3 innings and did just enough against a dangerous Hartford lineup.
Davis struggled with location and issued walks to Patin and Cale Klink, then gave up a one-out single to Seegers to load the bases. That brought up No. 2 hitter Nate Roethle, who had five hits and three RBIs in the previous two games of the series.
Roethle fell behind 0-2 but drove in his fourth run of the series when he was hit by a pitch to make it 6-3. Davis escaped further damage when he struck out Lukes and got Drew Palmer to fly out to right.
Davis got Jordan Stephans to fly out to right to start the eighth, but walked Brent Williams and Patin from there.
Staff ace Brock Vredeveld, who pitched 110 innings this season including six the previous day, was brought in to finish it. Taylor Renzaglia drew a walk to load the bases and Klink also walked to drive in a run. Seegers followed with an RBI groundout to cut Clyman’s lead to 6-5.
Roethle came to plate for the second straight inning with the bases loaded, but Vredeveld stood in and retired him on a 4-3 groundout to retire the side.
The Canners came back and scored two unearned runs in the bottom of the eighth off reliever Eric Mordeszewski.
Tony Schmitt led off and reached on an error by Seegers and Wegner walked. McBride sacrificed the runners into scoring position with a bunt up the third base line and Vredeveld drove in Schmitt with a sacrifice fly to left. Rose made it an 8-5 game with an RBI single to left.
In the ninth, Vredeveld allowed a leadoff single to Lukes but got the next three hitters to fly out, and the celebration was on.
“There was no tomorrow,” Vredeveld said. “I was tired. I told Kelvin (manager Kelvin Roe) at the start, I could give him one inning. Chase got in a little trouble and I said screw it. I pitched over 100 innings all summer and my arm took it. Now, I’ve got the whole summer to rest until next year.”
Vredeveld was a huge addition to this team four years ago after playing for the Lebanon Whitetails. He’s been very good over the years, and he was at his best when he had to be in the matchup with Roethle.
“That was big,” Vredeveld said. “Hartford was a really good hitting team. Between them and Hustisford, those were the best two teams we faced all year. We had to beat the best to win it all.
“It was fun. Kelvin’s our new coach, Dave is coming down to one of his last years. Shaun, Pfeif (Brian Pfeiffer), they’ve been through it all. We finally won them one. It feels good.”
Rose tipped his cap to the Northern Division champions on the other side.
“That’s a good team over in Hartford,” Rose said. “It was a battle. Even when it was 6-2, they were never out of it. They had some chances there at the end. We just did what we needed to do to win.”
Roe praised the team’s resolve in finishing the job.
“That was the story of the year,” Roe said. “We battled back. The season speaks for itself. The guys played for each other. We just had this feeling this weekend and it was there. Everyone had their chance to shine, not just (in the last game), but the entire season.”
Teams that made mistakes against Clyman this season almost always paid a price for it.
In Hartford’s case, the mistakes cost the Hawks a Rock River League championship.
Six days after beating Clyman 6-1 in the finals opener at Stueber Field, the Hawks took a 3-1 lead into the eighth inning with a chance to clinch the title on their home field Saturday.
“That’s been our inning all season,” Vredeveld said.
Clyman scored two unearned runs with the help of two Hartford errors to tie the game at 3-3 in the eighth, then scored twice in the top of the 11th to win 5-3 to even the series at 1-1.
Rose kick-started the game-tying rally when he beat out a grounder hit to third baseman Griffin Lukes on a throwing error.
Oswald put runners at the corners with a one-out single to right. That brought up catcher Ryan Kaul, who hit a sharp grounder to Lukes at third.
Lukes attempted to get the force out on Rose, but Rose beat him back to the bag with an alert dive. Lukes then rushed his throw to first and committed his second error of the inning.
Rose scored to make it a 3-2 game, and Oswald advanced to third. McFarland followed with a sacrifice fly to right to tie the game.
Hartford ace Brody Marks, the winning pitcher in the first game of the series, probably deserved better. He went 10 innings in this one and allowed three runs (one earned) on seven hits with three strikeouts and three walks.
Finley pitched the 11th for Hartford and took the loss in relief.
McFarland led off the winning rally with a base hit to right. Tony Schmitt bunted him over and reached when McFarland beat the throw to second.
Wegner bunted for a hit to load the bases for James Muenchow, who climbed out of an 0-2 hole to draw a walk to bring McFarland in with the go-ahead run.
“I said a year ago we were two wins away,” Muenchow said. “We’ve been chasing this (title) for five or six years. It feels good to finally get it.”
Vredeveld, who did a lot of pesky damage at the bottom of the order in the second half of the season, drove in an insurance run with a hard grounder that bounced off Finley’s foot and skipped high off the mound for a 1-3 RBI groundout.
On the mound, Vredeveld went 6 2/3 innings and allowed three earned runs on 10 hits with two strikeouts and two walks.
Tony Schmitt got the win in 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, allowing three hits with two strikeouts and one walk.
The Canners made some clutch defensive plays behind Schmitt.
Wegner made a sliding catch in left to rob Williams in the bottom of the eighth.
In the bottom of the ninth, No. 9 hitter Cale Klink hit a leadoff single to left center and Seegers sacrificed him over.
That brought up Roethle. who had three hits including an RBI double in his first four at-bats. The Canners intentionally walked him to get to Lukes, who grounded into an inning-ending 5-3 double play.
Schmitt then retired six of the last seven batters he faced to close the game out.
A big part of perpetual success for Rock River League teams involves recruiting.
Tim Ladron, a former Canner who played on heavily Watertown-dominated rosters that won championships in 2000 and 2007-09, recognized an opportunity when he became a teacher and varsity boys basketball coach at Beaver Dam High School and started recruiting BD athletes to come play for Clyman.
Twin brothers Nick and Tony Schmitt were among the first recruits, and they have been at the heart of this team’s success in recent years.
“I was going to bring (Tim) up (if you hadn’t mentioned him),” Nick Schmitt said.
“He kind of showed us (we had an opportunity here). He still comes to games now. He’s a big reason Beaver Dam players started getting into it.
“Then we started recruiting ourselves. There are a lot of Beaver Dam guys ... (my brother and I), James (Muenchow) and Ryan (Kaul) and there have been a few others over the years.
“It’s been nice. It’s Watertown players and Beaver Dam players half and half.”
Monster season for 14
What an incredible season Oswald had.
Clyman’s third baseman led the team in home runs (12), doubles (11), total bases (84) and RBIs (35). He had four home runs in his final two games against Hustisford and was intentionally walked in his final two at-bats of that series. In Sunday’s finale, he was 3-for-4 with a homer, a double, two runs scored and an RBI.
He was a wrecking crew, but insisted he wasn’t the one-man variety.
“I give a lot of credit to the guys who got on base ahead of me,” Oswald said. “Without them, I’m nothing.
“We never got down in the dugout. We just kept after it and kept making plays.”
Veterans savor this one
Wegner played for Clyman’s three-peat champions from 2007-09 and returned to the club in recent years. He has now played on four championship teams with the Canners.
“I think back in the day — not that this team is not good — but we were stacked, a fully loaded team,” Wegner said. “It was kind of an expectation that we were going to win it every year.
“This team is good. We’ve got really good players, but we knew we had to battle and scrap a little bit more.
“It was fun. I am proud of these guys. Being the old man, it’s a little different scenario now as compared to being the young buck.”
McFarland is three years younger than Wegner and may not be around much longer himself.
“It’s going to be a long discussion with my wife, that’s for sure,” McFarland said.
“It’s hard to stop, because we win every year. We’ve been perennial winners.”
The Canners have been in the finals three of the past four seasons, but came up short in two previous finals appearances against Hustisford in 2015 and 2017.
The Astros switched out of the Northern Division into the Southern Division this season. Clyman finally got past the Astros in this year’s Southern Division finals after beating them out for the top seed in the regular season.
“That one (beating Husty) felt really good,” McFarland said. “It’s been a heart attack every year. We’ve played well, good enough to win, year after year. We finally did. It’s huge.
“We’ve been a young team for a while. Now, we’re getting older and people are gelling. I couldn’t ask for a better team to play for, that’s for sure.”
CLYMAN 5, HARTFORD 3
Cly. 001 000 020 02 — 5 10 0
Hart. 101 100 000 00 — 3 13 2
WP: T. Schmitt
Leading hitters — Oswald (C) 2x6, Wegner (C) 3x5, Seegers (H) 2x5, Roethle (H) 3x4, Palmer (H) 2x5, Williams (H) 2x5
2B — C (Kaul) H (Roethle)
CLYMAN 8, HARTFORD 5
Hartford 000 011 120 — 5 7 1
Clyman 000 105 02X — 8 9 0
WP: T. Schmitt
Leading hitters — Seegers (H) 2x5, Lukes (H) 3x5, Rose (C) 2x5, Oswald (C) 3x4
2B — H (Seegers), C (Oswald, Wegner)
HR — H (Lukes), C (Oswald)