Greendale chased Cudahy in the Woodland Conference South Division baseball race right up until the final days of the season.
Then, showing the kick of a champion, the Panthers sprinted through the tape to win the championship while Cudahy staggered and fell at the finish line.
The Panthers, who went 15-6 to win the Woodland South by one game, wound up 22-10-1 overall. They were 18-6 after a 4-4-1 start.
“We kind of had a rough start and then we brought it together and worked more as a team,” said junior left-handed pitcher Chris Ridgway, a second-team all-Woodland South Division selection. “We had a few players out at the beginning of the year, and when they came back, we were more together.”
Coach Ted Brzenk’s team should be in good shape next year.
As Brzenk likes to say, Ridgway (9-4), who will be a senior, does not throw anything straight. That can be a blessing and a curse.
“Down the stretch, he was our best pitcher,” Brzenk said. “But he really has a lot to learn about pitching — how to hold people on base; how to get his curveball over consistently, down in the zone.
“His fastball is good enough to win, but he needs one or two other pitches that are going to complement that.
Brzenk hopes Ridgway learned from watching Oak Creek’s Eric Semmelhack, who pretty much had his way in pitching the Knights to an 11-4 sectional semifinal victory over the Panthers.
“He was continuously down in the zone,” Brzenk said of Semmelhack. “When you’re pitching down in the zone, you’re going to be pretty successful.”
Brzenk has a solid, left-handed hitting first baseman in rising senior Andrew Thompson, a second-team all-Woodland South Division pick.
“He takes a very good approach at the plate,” Brzenk said. “He drives the ball hard to left field. He waits on the ball very well. He doesn’t drive the ball right now, but he hits the ball up the middle and to left field. I’d rather have that than have him try to jerk the ball all the time.”
The player who may be most interesting to watch is Dan Wisniewski. He had a smashing freshman debut with three home runs, which is not bad for a guy Brzenk would not allow to start early in the season.
“I wanted him to get into it slowly.” Brzenk said. “But you know, cream rises to the top, and he’s got the ability. He’s going to be a real good player when he gets to be a senior.”
Wisniewski was batting fifth at the end of the season and would have had two hits in the sectional semifinal had the Oak Creek shortstop not made a nice play on a line drive.
Could he emerge into a cleanup hitter?
“Yeah,” Brzenk said. “The last ball he smoked to the shortstop, who made a great play. He’ll continuously get better and hit the ball harder. And he’ll be all right.”
Brzenk loses seniors Kyle Mabry (an all-Woodland utility player) and Steve Clasen, both of whom pitched and played in the infield, and outfielders Joey Bartman and Brennan Bychinski.
“It was a great season regardless of what happened (against Oak Creek),” Brzenk said. “I’m proud of the kids. They did a lot more than I thought they would.”
Jerry Karpowicz can be reached at (262) 446-6628.
THE GREAT RACE
Woodland Conference Baseball Standings
South Division: Greendale 15-6, 22-10-1; Cudahy 14-7, 23-12; Whitnall 12-9, 16-18; Greenfield 12-9, 16-18; St. Francis 8-13, 9-17; St. Thomas More 4-17, 7-28-1.
North Division: Pewaukee 16-5, 27-11; New Berlin West 16-5, 26-6; New Berlin Eisenhower 11-10, 17-20-1; Brown Deer 10-11, 19-16; Shorewood 4-17, 4-23; Wauwatosa West 4-17, 4-23.