When Whitnall’s Sam Mentkowski lined Zack Miller’s first pitch over the left field wall, the Falcons and their fans had reason to feel good about their WIAA regional title game against Greendale on Friday night.
Those positive feelings were jolted just a few minutes later, as the Panthers used four hits and a couple of errors to score six runs in the bottom of the inning and take a 6-1 ead.
Greendale eventually rode that advantage to a 9-5 triumph over its Woodland Conference Black Division rival before a large crowd at Brinkman Field.
The Panthers improved to 17-14 on the season and earned a spot in next Monday’s sectional against top seed Oak Creek on the West Allis Hale grounds. Whitnall wound up at 15-11.
The crowd barely had time to settle back in the seats after the national anthem before Mentkowski belted his first home run of the season. Greendale freshman pitcher Miller, however, quickly retired the next three batters.
“Zach did a nice job, and the thing I was most proud of was that after Mentkowski’s leadoff home run, he came back and shut them down,” Greendale head coach Brian Johnsen said.
In the Greendale first, Ben Moore singled sharply up the middle and Zach Henderson walked to set the table for cleanup hitter Kyle Senft, who delivered a double into the right center field gap to plate Moore.
Thomas Schuerman reached on an error, with Henderson scoring, and Justin Povlick got on with a fielder’s choice. Nate Van Ells walked to load the bases with two outs, then Joe Grabowski lined a 3-2 pitch just over second baseman Brent Sluka’s head to bring home two runs.
Grabowski was caught stealing but stayed in a pickle long enough to allow Van Ells to come home, and Miller singled to rightfield to score the sixth run.
“Our plate approaches were good,” Johnsen said. “We were locked in with our first fastball approach, and we did a nice job. It’s much better when you play the game up five to start.”
Whitnall head coach Ben Krey had the opposite view.
“We put up a home run in our first at-bat and we thought we had the momentum going,” he said. “But credit to them, they just battled the whole way through and didn’t let that one homer bother them.
“We didn’t make routine plays, and a couple of errors gave them a big inning right away. We knew we wanted to jump on them early, and we couldn’t do that. Instead, they did that to us.”
The Panthers added three runs in the third off reliever Mentkowski, with Grabowski driving in one with a single and Moore doubling into the left-center gap to bring in two more and make it 9-1.
“Joe’s been a good fastball hitter for us,” Johnsen said of Grabowski. “It’s nice to have him at the bottom of the order, to have a run producer down there.”
The Falcons tallied once in the fourth on Ian Hushek’s run-scoring single, then added three in the fifth.
Mentkowski doubled to deep center and scored on Josh Serio’s home run to left-center to cut the deficit to 9-4. After a Greendale error kept the inning alive, John Caron singled in another run and the Falcons went on to load the bases with two outs. Miller got Jake Brunette on a fielder’s choice grounder to end the threat.
Van Ells relieved Miller at the start of the sixth inning and allowed only one single in the final two frames.
For Whitnall, Mentkowski worked the final 5 1/3 innings, keeping his team somewhat within range.
“He came in and he really battled,” Krey said. “That kid’s got that kind of mentality, that no matter what the situation is, he’s got confidence in himself. He’s not going to let the team down. He’s going to get out there and battle. You’ve got to tip your hat to that kind of play.”
For Greendale, Moore finished 3 for 4 with two RBIs and Grabowski 2 for 3 with three RBIs.
Sam and Luke Mentkowski each had two hits for the Falcons.