He may be listed as the fourth starter on the Menomonee Falls' baseball team's pitching rotation, but sophomore Tommy Wolf was the ace the Indians needed Monday night, as he stymied hot-hitting host Oak Creek on just one hit in a critical, 4-0, Greater Metro Conference decision.
"I thought in my opinion that I was put in a tough position," said Wolf, "so I tried to play it like a normal game. I just threw strikes and let my defense help me."
Indian coach Pat Hansen was ecstatic over the exceptionally clean effort the Indians turned in as they took sole possession of first in GMC play (11-2 in league play and 17-2 overall) while Oak Creek fell to 10-3 and 13-4, respectively.
"That is what I call playoff baseball," he told the team in the dimming light at Oak Creek's Abendschein Field. "You play good defense and pitch well, commit zero errors, good things usually happen."
"And this should be a lesson to our entire staff. Get ahead in the count and let your defense make plays. Just a flawless game from that respect."
Oak Creek coach Scott Holler, whose team had pulled into a tie with Falls on June 13 with a 6-4 decision out at Trenary, was impressed by Wolf's calm under fire (five strikeouts and two walks) but was also puzzled by his team's lack of aggressiveness at the plate.
"Quality at bats just weren't there tonight," he said. "It seemed that we let a lot of fastballs go by early in the count. Then he (Wolf) would drop an off-speed pitch in there for a strike. Then he would lock us up with a fastball again."
"It happens, you get days like this sometimes but I wasn't expecting a lackluster effort against a good team like Falls. It just can't happen against a good team like this one. We were just very uncharacteristic tonight."
Holler must have suspected it would be a long night starting in the first. The Knights got a runner on with a walk, only to have Wolf pick him off and then strike out the next hitter to end the inning.
Falls seized the lead for good in the second, as a walk, an error and then designated hitter Troy Kenkel's RBI double gave Falls' a 1-0 lead. Kenkel would finish with three hits including two doubles on the night.
The Indians got their second run in the third on a head's up play by Justin Johnson, as he walked, and advanced to second on a passed ball. The bases then became loaded when Joel Zyhowski walked and Brett Krause singled.
With Falls' catcher Ryan Bowe at the plate, the Oak Creek catcher's throwback overshot Knight pitcher Brad Schulte and fell in behind the mound.
Johnson did not hesitate and took off like a shot for home easily beating the throw for Falls' second run.
"That was just great heads' up baserunning," said Hansen. "He did not hesitate and took off immediately."
And though the Indians would leave a combined total of six baserunners on in the second through fourth innings combined, Wolf never faltered. He picked off another Knight runner in the third. That was the inning Oak Creek got its only hit, a bleeder of a single up the middle by outfielder Dakota Slone.
No one reached second base for Oak Creek all night.
Still, Hansen, Wolf and the Indians had reason to be nervous with two out in the seventh. Falls' fastest man, Cole Hernikl had just been thrown out at the plate by Knight freshman outfielder Doran Turchin on an attempted tag up.
If Oak Creek reliever Kahler Cox could get the third out, the Knights would go into the bottom of the seventh with a good chance to rally as it had its second, third and fourth men up in the order.
But the Indians didn't let that happen, as centerfielder Joel Zyhowski poked a single to left, and then the shortstop Krause (two hits, two runs and two RBI) blasted a booming two-run homer to left while battling a capricious 30-plus mile an hour wind straight out of the south.
"We had a baserunning mistake, but we stayed in the game," said Hansen. "Joel gets a hit and then Brett hits a bomb. ...That was huge. They're thinking that they probably could get back into the game and tie it if they get the third out, but then that (home run) totally deflated them."
Wolf admitted that he started breathing a little easier after the blast.
"Yeah, it did a lot," he said. "I felt a lot more comfortable (laughs). ...I really felt good today. My off-speed stuff was really working well. I don't have the strongest fastball in the world, so getting my breaking ball over was big."
Krause took over in the bottom of the seventh and set the top of the Knight order down one-two-three.
"I really like him (Krause)," said Holler. "Just a really nice ballplayer. Going into that at-bat, even with a runner on, I was thinking about whether we should walk him or not. Even at 1-2 in the count, I was thinking that. In retrospect, I probably should have done it."
Schulte had three strikeouts and three walks in his six innings of work.
Meanwhile, Falls prepares to move on.
"We didn't accomplish anything tonight except earn a very nice win," said Hansen. "It was a real good win but now we have to keep the ball rolling."
Falls will host rival Sussex Hamilton (9-5, 11-6) at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
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