Pitching questions loom for managers at the WIAA state baseball tournament every year.
Do you pitch your No. 1 starter in your first game at Neuroscience Group Field, regardless of your opponent? After all, you can’t win the second game, or the third and a state championship, if you don’t win the first one.
Or do you assess your odds and take a chance with your second or third starter based on your opponent, hoping to save your ace? Lose the first one, though, and your ace boards the bus back home without ever seeing the mound.
Janesville Craig coach Victor Herbst isn’t dead set on one theory or the other. He prefers to simplify the question:
“At the end of the day, we’re here to win two games (on Tuesday),” Herbst said after his team’s 8-0 victory over Milwaukee King in a Division 1 state quarterfinal Tuesday. “To have a shot at going against Hartland Arrowhead, which I think is one of the best teams in the state, to have Mitchell (Woelfle) on the mound, I think gives us our best opportunity to get a ‘W.’”
It turned out to be the right call, even though one swing of the bat helped Hartland Arrowhead keep Craig from advancing to its second state championship game in the past four season.
Junior Micah Overley, a second-team all-Big Eight Conference selection, was dominating in Craig’s first game.
Overley, who said he had a couple-day’s notice that he’d be the starter in the quarterfinal game, was never stressed against Milwaukee King. He pitched with a lead from the top of the second on, allowing just two hits while striking out five and walking two.
“It was nice to be able to mentally prepare for it,” Overley said. “It’s nice to get the first game out of the way, get the team to the next game and hand it off to Mitchell.”
Woelfle, too, was sharp in a state semifinal that had the feel of a state title game.
A first-team all-conference pick for the second straight year, the junior seemed to get better as the late night wore on. He gave up just one run on four hits in the first five innings against the Warhawks. Of those hits, one was a ground-rule double that fell just over the glove of left fielder Ross March, another was a Texas-league single and a third was a towering fly ball that fell between March and center fielder JJ Brennan and wound up being a fluky RBI double.
He had retired 10 of the last 11 batters he had faced before Arrowhead’s Zak Karrels led off the top of the seventh with a walk-off home run to left field.
The Cougars also only mustered two hits against the Warhawks, and their only run was unearned in the first inning.
Not enough run support.
Not much more to say about that.
In 2015, Herbst and the Cougars went the more traditional route when they won the state championship.
Ace Alex Marro threw into the seventh inning of a 7-2 victory over Baraboo in the quarterfinals. Chase Nyborg then threw a complete-game five-hitter in the semifinals, and the Cougars turned to then-sophomore Nick Cramer in the title game. Cramer threw five strong frames and got the win in a 2-0 victory over Kimberly.
Who would have started for Craig in a potential state title game Thursday might never be known.
But Waunakee had used up a bevy of its arms to get through its two games Tuesday, including in an 11-inning thriller to beat Green Bay Preble in the semifinals.
Instead, despite the Cougars’ successful pitching gamble, it’ll be Arrowhead that gets its shot at a state championship at 6 p.m. Thursday in Grand Chute.
And Craig will simply hope it can get back to state to answer some more fun pitching strategy questions as soon as possible.