A bye in the postseason can send a team one of two ways. It can return rested and relaxed or lethargic.
Craig’s baseball team was the latter for five innings Thursday.
Fortunately for the Cougars, they came to life in the sixth and stole a 6-5 win over Milton in a WIAA Division 1 regional title game at Riverside Park.
Craig (15-12) plays Beloit Memorial or Oregon in a sectional semifinal game at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Pohlman Field in Beloit.
Milton, which finished 10-9, played inspired ball for five innings in taking a 5-0 lead. But the Red Hawks ran out of pitching in the end and were ultimately hurt by having to play a game on Tuesday, while higher-seeded Craig got the bye.
"We hit a wall pitching-wise," Milton coach Ryan Neuenschwander said. "We have a bye or get a rain out tonight (Thursday) and it’s going to be a different team tomorrow. But we didn’t, and that’s the way the cookie crumbles."
Milton jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the top of the second on an RBI groundout from Owen Peterson and James Spry’s RBI single. The Red Hawks pushed the lead to 3-0 in the third before adding two more in the fourth. Spry’s second RBI single of the game made it 4-0 and he scored on a Craig error.
"The first half of the game, we were not sharp at all," Craig coach Vic Herbst said. "We didn’t pitch very well, we didn’t hit very well and our defense wasn’t very good.
"But you play seven innings for a reason, and we were fortunate today to have the bye, while they had to play Tuesday."
Milton starter Tyler Westrick kept Craig scoreless through four frames but reached his innings limit after throwing three innings on Tuesday. Craig got on the board in the fifth with two runs on Wyatt Olson’s RBI single and a Milton error.
The Cougars took the lead with four in the sixth. Ryne McKee singled to start the inning and advanced to third on Tyler Campbell’s pinch-hit, wind-aided double. Justin Graham singled to make it 5-3 and Campbell scored the fourth run on back-to-back walks. Brandon Hughes tied the game with an RBI single that scored Graham, and Nate Hoag gave Craig the lead for good on a passed ball.
Troy Malmanger picked up the win in relief with three-plus scoreless innings. The senior right-hander allowed only one hit and retired the final seven batters he faced.
"Troy came on and was dynamite for us," Herbst said. "He has done that numerous times for us this season. His performance is a big reason why we had a chance at the end."
CRAIG 6, MILTON 5
Milton (ab-r-h-rbi)—Lynch, 2b, 4-1-1-0; Bowen, rf-1b-p, 4-0-1-0; Westrick, p-rf, 4-0-1-1; Catacutan, ss, 3-0-0-0; Haney, c, 3-0-2-0; Harms, cr, 0-1-0-0; Martin, dh, 2-2-0-0; Cassidy, lf, 0-0-0-0; Peterson, 1b-p-1b, 2-0-0-1; Spry, 3b, 3-1-2-2; Bachinski, 2-0-0-0. Totals: 27-5-7-4.
Craig (ab-r-h-rbi)—Graham, 3b, 2-2-1-1; Hoag, lf, 2-1-0-0; Blomgren, ss, 2-1-1-1; Hughes, 1b, 3-0-1-1; Olson, cf, 4-0-2-1; A. Marro, dh, 3-0-1-0; Frey, p, 0-0-0-0; Malmanger, p, 0-0-0-0; R. Marro, c, 3-0-1-0; Campbell, cr-rf, 1-1-1-0; McKee, 2b, 2-1-1-0; Platts, rf, 2-0-0-0. Totals: 24-6-9-4.
Milton 021 200 0—5
Janesville Craig 000 024 x—6
E—Milton 1, Craig 2. LOB—Milton 4, Craig 9. DP—Craig 1. SAC—Peterson. 2B—Campbell.