Prep baseball: Road ends in sectional final for Northwood/Solon Springs
The Green Eagles rallied from an early three-run deficit to take the lead, but the Ramblers took advantage of some costly mistakes to advance to the state tournament.
SHELL LAKE, Wis. — Northwood/Solon Springs pitcher Abe Ahlberg didn’t get the start he was looking for in the Green Eagles’ matchup against Eau Claire Regis in the sectional final Tuesday.
Ahlberg walked four batters and allowed three runs in the first two innings against the Ramblers, but settled down and, more importantly, led an NSS rally that took a 6-3 lead into the fifth inning.
The early struggles left Ahlberg with a high pitch count that took him off the mound after the fourth inning and allowed Regis to stage a comeback of its own for a 13-10 win and a spot in the Wisconsin Division 4 state tournament next week.
“Abe had trouble getting the ball down,” NSS coach Nate Ahlberg said. “He left a lot of balls up and the fact that we made it to seven innings after that rough start — he had 30-some pitches in the first — I was really concerned, but Abe did a great job of coming back and throwing strikes.”
With the Green Eagles facing Cole Selvig — one of the best pitchers in Wisconsin — on the mound for Regis, it could have turned ugly early on. Instead, Ahlberg settled in and went toe-to-toe with the University of Texas recruit.
Gage Blaylock drove in a run in the second and Ahlberg hit an RBI double in the third that started a four-run rally. NSS picked up three more runs on two wild pitches and a throwing error on catcher Sam Knickerbocker to take a 5-3 lead and force Selvig from the game. The Green Eagles got another run in the fourth inning off an RBI by Tanner Carlson.
“Our guys did the job they needed to do in preparing for that velocity,” coach Ahlberg said. “We hit around on of the best pitchers in the state and had him on the hook for the loss.”
Unfortunately for the Green Eagles, Ahlberg’s pitch count was over 90 after four innings and he had to leave the game as well. NSS was forced to turn to Colby Latvala and Carlson to finish the game, both of whom had pitched in the Green Eagles’ win five-inning, 12-2 over Siren earlier Tuesday.
Latvala came in for the top of the fifth and walked three of the first four batters he faced, but looked poised to get out of the inning unscathed until Alex Leis hit a two-RBI single that set off a five-run inning for Regis.
“Our hitters’ approach is so good,” Ramblers’ coach Andy Niese said. “The kids have been told over and over and over again to look for strikes, pull your hands, drop the barrel and lay off pitches above your belt. We’ve got some pretty talented hitters in our lineup — I’m told by opposing coaches we could flip-flop our lineup and it wouldn’t really make that much of a difference.”
Regis added two more in the sixth and another in the seventh.
NSS responded by scoring two in the bottom of the seventh and even got the tying run to the plate in the inning, but a Kaden Corlett strikeout ended the game.
“Northwood/Solon Springs is a darn good team,” Niese said. “To play that many sophomores, they’re going to be tough to deal with for the next couple years. I feel bad in some place in my brain watching the other team lose like that, because I know how heartbreaking it is, but they’re good. That’s a legit good team over there.”
NSS (24-4) will return its top three pitchers in Ahlberg, Carlson and Corlett next season and will look to challenge for a spot in the state tournament.
Coach Ahlberg, however, was proud of his team’s “resilience” and willingness to keep fighting even after a rough start.
“We ran out of bullets, pitching-wise,” Coach Ahlberg said. “That was kind of our ticket, if Abe could pitch us deep in the ballgame, we’d be in good shape. With the mistakes we made and his high pitch count we just weren’t able to get there, but I was very proud that we just kept battling.”