Stratford claims first state baseball title
By Hub City Times staff
APPLETON – The Stratford Tigers baseball team made school history June 13, capturing the team’s first state baseball championship. Stratford defeated Markesan 9-4 in the WIAA Division 3 State Baseball Tournament final at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton.
Stratford twice came from behind to win the game for first-year head coach Marshall Lehman.
“Their hard work paid off, and it’s amazing,” Lehman said after the game. “We wanted to get to sectionals. We really wanted to get there. I think the turning point was the regional final game against Marathon, a team that we struggled with playing there, and we went there and we beat them, and when that happened I knew that this team could probably do it.”
Stratford struggled against Markesan in the early innings of the championship game. An error, a walk, and a hit batter loaded the bases for the Tigers in the top of the first inning, but Markesan starter Bryce Leedle pitched his way out of the jam and Stratford left the bases loaded.
Stratford starting pitcher Chandler Schmidt got through the Markesan first inning okay, but allowed a run in the second, and another in the third.
After going scoreless with just one hit through four innings, the Tigers finally got on the board in the fifth, scoring two runs to tie the game. After loading the bases with two outs, Riley Bauman delivered a two-run base hit to center field. The Hornets added another run in their half of the fifth inning to take back the lead.
Stratford came right back in the top of the sixth inning and tied the game again, this time on a two-out RBI triple by Schmidt. The game was now tied at three heading into the top of the seventh inning. That’s when the Tiger bats finally came to life.
“We just kept pushing their starting pitcher (Leedle), and we were getting his pitch count up,” Lehman added. “We knew we could probably hit him. We just weren’t getting the balls to drop or go where we wanted them to. Eventually a couple of them fell. We kept getting that score back to where we wanted it. When they went to their lefty (Gavin Gilbertson), he was much slower, and we were trying to get the guys to change their approach, but they just got too anxious.”
Markesan suffered a major blow, however, when Gilbertson strained his pitching elbow and had to leave the game after retiring the only two batters he faced.
With one out in the Tiger seventh inning, the Hornets brought in Cayden Plagenz, and the flood gates opened up for the Stratford offense. After Plagenz got Kade Ehrike to fly out to center field, Bauman got another hit, then advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Mav Licciardi then drew a walk before Devyn Palmer singled to left to load the bases. Lance Heidmann got hit by a pitch, and that brought home the go-ahead run from third. Eli Drexler then drilled a single to center field, scoring Licciardi and Palmer. Schmidt ripped a base hit to left, scoring Heidmann and Drexler. Pinch hitting for Colten Schillinger, Dylan Schoenherr delivered a base hit to left, advancing pinch runner Max Schwabe from second to third. Dawson Moen then singled to center field, scoring Schwabe from third and completing a six-run seventh inning for the Tigers.
Schmidt allowed another Markesan run on two hits in the bottom of the seventh, but struck out Shane Ryan and then got 6’4″, 220-pound pinch hitter Joey Paddock to ground out to Ty Pankratz at third to end the game.
Schmidt got the complete-game win, giving up four runs (three earned) on seven hits while striking out six and walking just one. The Tiger baseball team became the first of four Stratford teams who competed at the state championship level to win this season.
“They deserve it,” Lehman added. “They worked extremely hard. I’m happy for all these kids and this community.”
Stratford advanced to the title game by defeating Boyceville 7-5 in a state semi-final contest June 12. Lance Heidmann picked up the win in that game and Schmidt got the save in two innings of relief. Licciardi had two singles and three runs batted in. Bauman singled, doubled and knocked in two runs. The Tigers ended their championship season 22-2.