It is hard to imagine two more evenly matched teams than New Berlin West and Greendale.
The Vikings and Panthers entered their WIAA regional final matchup having played three one-run games this season — two in the regular season and another in the Woodland Conference tournament championship game.
With a trip to the sectional on the line, the two teams played yet another one-run game. This time Greendale came out on top, as the Panthers got a clutch sixth-inning hit from freshman J.R Muth to come away with a 3-2 win over New Berlin West.
'All four of our games were identical,' New Berlin West coach Tom Farina said. 'Neither one of us could beat the other one two times in a row. We kept trading wins and losses. Each one of us had a big win. We won to win the conference championship title, and they won to move on to the sectionals.
'It was one of the more amazing things I've seen in all the years I've been coaching. All the games were well-played, exciting games.'
Panthers strike first
Greendale jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning against Vikings starter Will Bush.
Bohan Lee drew a walk to start the frame and moved to second on a ground out. With two outs, Mitchell Gnadt singled to left to score Lee.
New Berlin West put two on with nobody out in the top of the second, but two fly balls and a strikeout got Panther starter Cam Anders out of trouble.
The Panthers added another run in the second. Jaelen Johnson led off with an infield single, and Bush hit Anders with a pitch to put two on with nobody out. After a sacrifice bunt by Muth advanced the runners to second and third, Kennedy Steinberg made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly.
Vikings finally break through
A hit by pitch and a single by Justice Dodd started the third for the Vikings. Anders again was able to wiggle out of a jam with a pop out to shortstop and an inning-ending double play. Greendale turned yet another double play to end the fourth.
'We had offensive chances,' Farina said. 'Our guys were putting pressure on them. We'd get a couple of guys on base, hit a ball hard and then they'd turn a double play. In one respect, you could say we missed some opportunities, but on the other hand you can say, 'You know what? Greendale's defense came up with big plays when they needed big plays.''
New Berlin West broke through against Anders in the top of the fifth, as Oscar DelValle delivered a two-out, two-run single to score Tyler Stoltenburg and Bush to tie the game at 2-2.
Freshman wins it
Luke Stephenson drew a leadoff walk off Bush to start the bottom of the sixth and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Johnson. After Anders grounded out to second for the second out, Muth fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches before singling off Bush's glove to score courtesy runner Sam Lister with the go-ahead run.
The Vikings put up a fight in the seventh, as Bush drew a walk to start the inning, chasing Anders in the process. With reliever Mike Jankowiak on the mound, Dodd sacrificed Bush to second. Jankowiak's first pitch to DelValle was a wild, allowing Bush to go to third.
With the infield playing in, Bush had to hold at third when DelValle hit a ground ball right to second baseman Lee. Jankowiak then struck out Nate Egofske to end the game with the tying run at third.
New Berlin West beat Greendale, 5-4, on June 13. The Panthers came back the next day to win a 1-0 game. The Vikings then won 3-2 in the Woodland Conference tournament title game July 6.
'They laid it on the line, gave 100 percent effort,' Farina said. 'Neither team in any of the four games (between Greendale and New Berlin West) had anything to feel bad about losing. Are we disappointed we didn't win a game? Absolutely. It hurts because you put forth your maximum effort.'
New Berlin West advanced to face Greendale by downing Greenfield, 9-6, in a regional semifinal game on July 12.
The Vikings used a five-run third inning to jump out to a 6-0 lead. New Berlin West led, 9-1, entering the seventh inning before Greenfield scored five times in its final at-bat.
Corey Liebherr struck out seven over 62/3 innings to earn the win while also going 3-for-4 with four RBIs at the plate. Nick Paget had two hits and three RBIs, and Stoltenburg had two hits and two RBIs.