After coming into his junior baseball season with high expectations, Will Bush’s season appeared to be essentially over. He battled multiple viral infections and then broke an index finger while trying to stop a line drive. The Vikings ace was limited to three starts in the regular season.
“It was really discouraging just because I had hyped it up so much in the offseason,” Bush said. “I was really looking forward to this season, and then things didn’t really go as I planned.”
After persistently working with hopes of a late season comeback, Bush’s opportunity finally came. He was medically cleared to pitch Saturday for a short bullpen session and told coach Tom Farina that he was good to go.
There was a catch. He had to wear a bandage on his index finger. Farina then found out that WIAA rules prohibited him from wearing a bandage on his finger while on the mound. Farina concluded that his ace finally found a setback that he could not come back from. But Bush still wanted to see how things were the next day.
“I haven’t thrown without tape on my finger ever since I injured my finger,” Bush said. “I figured out I could throw today about 45 minutes before the game.”
Despite his broken finger, Bush broke New Berlin Eisenhower’s playoff aspirations, striking out 14 Eisenhower hitters en route to the team’s 5-1 victory.
“He was lights out,” Eisenhower coach Nick Wycklendt said. “You’re not going to win a lot of baseball games when you have 14 strikeouts.”
Unable to throw his fastball, Bush had to “pitch backwards.”
“He had them baffled early with the curveball,” Farina said. “And when they realized that he was going to be throwing a lot of curveballs, we didn’t really change it, but we said, ‘Now you have to use your fastball.’”
Wycklendt said that he never faced something like Bush’s performance working backwards.
While the curveball worked out splendidly for Bush, there was no guarantee that it’d be successful.
“It was really tough because I haven’t been able to establish my curveball as well as I’d like to this year,” Bush said. “But when adversity comes my way, I’m glad I’m able to step up.”
Bush did not have to adjust his grip but put more pressure on his middle finger instead of his index finger.
He also could not throw his typical circle changeup, forcing Farina to find an alternative for his pitcher.
“Instead of doing the circle, just tuck it and throw it like a fastball,” Farina told his pitcher during his bullpen session. “It’s not going to move like your other changeup does but it’s going to take six, eight miles per hour off the pitch.”
With his index finger still not able to withstand pressure, Farina and Bush were adjusting the fastball as the game went on.
“It was really tough,” Bush said. “Anytime I saw the one (signal) show up with my catcher, there was a little voice in the back of my head that says, ‘Oh boy.’”
His success with offspeed pitches set up his fastball.
“That 82 or 83 looked like it was 95 to the hitters,” Farina said. “You could tell they were behind everything.”
Even despite the “oh boy” voice in his head every fastball, Bush knew early on that “pitching backwards” would work.
“Even in the first inning, I could tell pitching backwards was really going my way,” Bush said. “It really worked.”
Bush had the benefit of run support as West scored a pair of runs in the fourth inning off a double play and then a Nate Artenian hit, his second of the game.
“I trust my team and I know I can count on them when I need them to get me some runs,” Bush said. “Our bats came alive this year, and especially in this game.”
West later added to its lead in the sixth inning to build a 5-1 lead.
“They did what they had to do,” Farina said. “We picked moments and we were productive with those.”
The team’s regional semifinal win has extra meaning coming against rival New Berlin Eisenhower, who beat the Vikings twice in the regular season.
“We don’t want our seniors go out in their last high school game against Eisenhower, our rivals,” Bush said. “So we all did it for our team and each other.”
West cannot dwell on its win long, as top-seeded Oak Creek looms a day away in the regional finals.
“Our reward is we get to go to Oak Creek tomorrow,” Farina joked. “We feel so lucky.”
“It’s going to take a perfect effort tomorrow,” Farina told his team. “But you just proved you’re capable of giving a really good effort.”
New Berlin Eisenhower, meanwhile, ends its third straight season in the first round of the playoffs.
“Our goal is always to try to be the best we can be and shoot for conference championships and get to state,” Wycklendt said. “But one step at a time. Win a game first in the playoffs.”
Eisenhower will lose three players that will be playing in college next year: Joey Scaffidi (UW-Milwaukee), Dylan Karvala (Concordia) and Bryce Wesling (UW-LaCrosse). The team does, however, return four freshmen and four sophomores.