Panthers earn second straight state berth

by Greg Ceilley of The Review staff


THE PLYMOUTH PANTHERS proudly display their sectional baseball championship plaque after defeating Sheboygan Falls, 8-5, Monday night. – Review photo by Greg Ceilley THE PLYMOUTH PANTHERS proudly display their sectional baseball championship plaque after defeating Sheboygan Falls, 8-5, Monday night. – Review photo by Greg Ceilley HOWARDS GROVE – A very confident, poised Plymouth Panther baseball team got off to a terrific start to key an 8-5 win over archrival Sheboygan Falls in a sectional baseball final here Monday night and earn its second straight berth in the state tournament.

“It feels really good [going to state]. We played really well,” said Panther senior catcher Tyler Willeford.

“I’m very proud of my team. It was a 100-percent team effort. Everyone stepped up.”

The No. 1-seeded Panthers, 23-7, exploded for five runs in the bottom of the second inning off Falcon ace John VanderPloeg to mount a 5-0 lead and were in command the rest of the way. VanderPloeg pitched a one-hit shutout against the Panthers on July 3.


TYLER WILLEFORD of Plymouth steals second, beating the tag from Sheboygan Falls second baseman Jared Petrie in the first inning of Monday night’s sectional baseball finals. – Review photo by Greg Ceilley TYLER WILLEFORD of Plymouth steals second, beating the tag from Sheboygan Falls second baseman Jared Petrie in the first inning of Monday night’s sectional baseball finals. – Review photo by Greg Ceilley In the rematch with VanderPloeg, the Panther hitters showed good discipline and patience at the plate as they continually worked the count to their advantage.

The PHS attack rocked Vander- Ploeg for six runs (five earned) on five hits. VanderPloeg, the losing hurler, struggled with his control as he issued five walks to go with four strikeouts in 4-1/3 innings.

“We had a little fire under us after the last time against him [VanderPloeg]. We wanted to sit back and see if we could get some bags [walks] and rely on the next guy to bring them around,” said Willeford.

Plymouth’s first run came on a bases-loaded walk by pinch-hitter TJ Moegenburg which brought home Drew Schweiger who had singled. Willeford, the Panthers’ standout leadoff hitter, followed with a tworun single. Zac Cain capped off the big second inning when he lined a two-run single.

The Falcons made it 5-1 in the fifth when Sean Mattek scored on a wild pitch. Mattek had opened the frame with a single, moved to second base on Conor O’Dwanny’s infield single and taken third on a wild pitch.

PHS answered with a run in its half of the fifth. Drew Schweiger walked with one away and then VanderPloeg was relieved by Ross Krist. Jake Steinhardt batted next and reached on an infield error which moved Schweiger to second. Two wild pitches moved Schweiger around to score to make it 6-1.

The Panthers increased their lead to 8-1 in the sixth on a two-run single by Steinhardt with two outs. Cain and Cole Karczewski scored on the hit. Cain had walked with one out, followed by Karczewski’s double which advanced Cain to third.


DREW SCHWEIGER, Plymouth right fielder, smashes a single in the second inning of the sectional baseball championship game versus Sheboygan Falls Monday night. – Review photo by Greg Ceilley DREW SCHWEIGER, Plymouth right fielder, smashes a single in the second inning of the sectional baseball championship game versus Sheboygan Falls Monday night. – Review photo by Greg Ceilley The Falcons made things interesting with four runs in the seventh off reliever Steinhardt to pull within 8-5. Krist’s three-run double keyed the comeback. Ryan Schmitt’s basesloaded walk plated the other run.

“This [sectional title] is huge for us. It wasn’t as easy as last year. We had to battle some teams this year,” said Karczewski, a senior second baseman.

“We’re all hard workers and hard work wins games.”

Derek Schweiger, a sophomore lefty, pitched six strong innings for the Panthers and earned the win. He allowed one earned run on only three hits with five strikeouts, a hit batter and only one walk.

“Derek gave us six innings of determination and complete focus. He did exactly what we needed in order to get up early, build some momentum and hold on until the seventh,” said Panther head coach Butch Cain.

“I just do what I can, and put the ball in the strike zone and it worked,” said Schweiger.

“I was able to hit spots and the outer black [of the plate]. I was able to command my fastball which was really the key.

“My slider worked really well and every once in a while I threw my changeup. I kept them off balance,” said Schweiger.

Willeford and Steinhardt led the PHS attack with two hits each. Cain, Willeford and Steinhardt had a teamhigh two RBIs apiece.

Cain, Matt Olig and Willeford had a team-best two steals each. Drew Schweiger led in runs with a pair.

“Timely hitting, taking advantage of some free passes, defense and pitching were in our favor,” said coach Cain.

“Our aggressive baserunning also put pressure on the Falcons’ pitchers and defense. These traits have proven to be a good formula for our success again this season.

“This team has hung together regardless of the situation or hurdle they have faced this season and they have had their share. We have received contributions from every member of our team. They have displayed exceptional team play and confidence in one another,” coach Cain pointed out.

“Going back to state became an objective for our guys the minute our season came to a close last year. This opportunity should prove valuable for us because we have experienced the schedule, excitement, competition and environment that is all part of playing for a baseball championship.”

“We’re playing our best ball now and we’re looking forward to state,” said Olig who has been the Panthers’ designated hitter most of the season after injury his pitching arm early on which has kept him off the mound and from playing first base.

Olig is having Tommy John surgery at the end of the month.

“This team is great. We work hard and push each other. We’re never down. These guys have stepped up.”

Krist, Mattek and O’Dwanny paced the Falcons in hits with two each. Krist led in RBIs with three.

Falls, the No. 3 seed, finished the season at 16-15.


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