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by Marlys Kruger
GRAND CHUTE — After the final out was recorded – fittingly on a strikeout, the Boyceville baseball team converged on pitcher Walker Retz, who tossed a one-hit shut out, to begin celebrating the first state championship in the history of Boyceville baseball.
The Bulldogs had just defeated the Rosholt Hornets 4-0 in the WIAA Division 4 title game, achieving a goal they had been working towards for many years.
After reaching the state tournament two years ago with several underclassmen, hopes of getting back in 2020 disappeared with the cancellation of the season due to the Cornonavirus pandemic. But, kids are resilient and instead of complaining or feeling sorry for themselves, the Bulldog players and coaches pulled together and used the extra time to work hard and improve their game.
Everything fell into place this year as they rolled through the regular season, winning a Dunn-St. Croix Conference championship, a regional title and after demolishing the number one team in the state, a sectional championship.
Boyceville’s final goal had not been attained yet as they entered Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute last Monday, June 28, for an 11:00 a.m. semifinal game against Southwestern. The Bulldogs started the day with an 11-1 win in five innings over the Wildcats of Southwestern, then had a nice long five-hour break before they hit the field again and took total control of the contest against the Rosholt Hornets to earn the final win and their first state championship.
Boyceville finished as the Division 3 state runner-up in 2000 under then head coach Jeff Riek.
The Southwestern team came into the stadium unranked with an 11-10 record and were 5-9 in the Southwest Wisconsin Athletic League, good for fourth place. But, records can be deceiving when you are playing a team from another part of the state. Rest assured the Boyceville coaches put in many hours studying the three other teams in the tournament, making sure they were prepared for everything that could come up.
Just like the sectional round, Connor Sempf started on the mound for Boyceville. After whiffing the first batter, he gave up a double but, a short fly ball was sent to right field and freshman Braden Roemhild not only made a sliding catch for the out, he had the presence of mind to get up and gun the ball to second base to double up the runner.
“When I saw Braden make that play and how excited our players were, I knew it was going to be a good game,” said Bulldogs’ head coach Michael Roemhild.
The defensive play sparked the offense as Trett Joles started the Bulldogs off with a single to left field. Anybody who has followed Boyceville all year, knew Joles would be heading to second as soon as possible. The steal occurred on the first pitch to Sempf, putting him in scoring position. Although Sempf struck out, Retz picked him up with a base hit up the middle bringung Joles in and Retz ended up on second after a late throw home. He didn’t stay there long after Trevor Hollister slammed a shot to the second baseman who couldn’t handle it and Retz came home for a 2-0 lead.
Southwestern came back in the top of the second with a double, a Bulldog throwing error, and a single to score a run. Sempf simply refocused however, after getting an out on a bunt, he forced a pair of pop ups, leaving two Southwestern players on the base paths.
Boyceville came to the park with their hitting shoes on though and they added four more runs in the second. Dawson McRoberts started things off with a single to left but was forced at second on a grounder by Ira Bialzik. Joles was back up again and banged his second hit and Sempf followed him with his own single to bring Bialzik in. Joles alertly went to third on the play and came home on another Retz base hit. Trevor Hollister sent a fly ball out to center field, allowing Sempf, who had swiped second, to tag up and score. Jacob Granley was plunked by a pitch and Roemhild knocked a single to bring Retz in and it was 6-1.
“Offensively our bats were alive all game,” coach Roemhild said. “I thought our guys took a great approach at the plate,” he added.
Sempf started the third inning with a strikeout but ran into some trouble again when he issued a walk, a single and, a sacrifice bunt to put runners on second and third. But, with two outs, he whiffed the next batter to leave two more Southwestern runners stranded.
The hits and runs kept coming for the Bulldogs as they collected four hits which included singles by Bialzik, Sempf, Retz, and Trevor Hollister to bring three more runs in to up their lead to 9-1.
Although Boyceville committed two errors in the top of the fourth inning, Sempf and his defense made sure it wasn’t going to hurt them. A line drive to Retz at shortstop was snagged and he doubled off the runner at first for two outs. Retz uncharacteristically made a bad throw to first on a ground ball but, Sempf calmly struck out the next batter to get out of the inning.
Boyceville went down in order in the fourth and Southwestern made a bid in the top of the fifth to add to their run total. The Wildcats put runners on first and second with a walk and a single off Sempf but a pop up to Retz, a strikeout and, another pop up to Chase Hollister at second base left two more runners on the base paths.
The bottom of the fifth started slow for the Bulldogs after a couple of pop fly outs but Joles drew a walk and stole second yet again. Sempf took another walk and Retz seemingly just wanted to get the game over with as he slammed a triple to the center field fence to bring in both runners and end the game by the ten-run rule.
Knowing Sempf was done pitching for the day, coach Roemhild commented, “Connor was able to come out here and end his pitching career the way he wanted to, with a win,” he said. “Not many people get to say their last game of pitching in high school was an 11-1 victory in five innings at the state tournament. That was huge because it saved our other pitchers for the next game. I am very proud of him.”
Sempf surrendered just five hits and an earned run in that final pitching performance with six strike outs and a pair of walks.
Boyceville banged out 12 hits in the contest with Retz going 4-for-4 with an amazing six RBIs and two runs scored. Sempf was 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs and scored three times while Joles went 2-for-2 and came home four times. Trevor Hollister, Roemhild, McRoberts, and Bialzik all had one hit with Bialzik scoring twice, and Roemhild and Hollister both bringing in a run.
It appeared the Rosholt Hornets, ranked seventh in the final D4 WBCA coaches poll, were going to be a little tougher opponent for the Bulldogs as they had won the Central Wisconsin South Conference with a 9-0 record and were 21-3 when they started the day. They had just defeated Greenwood 6-1 in the semifinal and looked like they could present some problems for the Boyceville team.
But, with senior Walker Retz on the mound, the Hornets found out early they would have to work very hard for any runs they hoped to score. After a grounder to second which was fielded by Chase Hollister for the first out, Retz struck out the next two batters he faced in the first inning and the Bulldogs were back in the dugout pretty quick.
As usual, lead-off hitter Joles reached base, this time on a hard shot to the shortstop who misplayed the ball. Joles didn’t need to steal however, after a bad pickoff attempt allowed him to move to second. Joles moved to third on a ground ball out by Sempf but a pair of fly ball outs left him at third.
It was almost the same pattern for Retz in the top of the second as he whiffed two more batters with a ground ball fielded by himself in between to allow his teammates to get out of the hot sun and back to the business of hitting.
The runs were not coming very easy for the Bulldogs in this contest and they stranded another player at third base in the bottom of the inning. Roemhild was hit by a pitch with one out, then advanced to second on a stolen base. A ground ball out moved him up to third but another grounder ended the inning to keep the game scoreless.
Retz had one of his only two blips of the game when he hit the Hornet’s lead-off batter to start the third. After the runner moved to second, via a stolen base, it was all Retz and his infield again as he whiffed two batters and Sempf fielded a ground ball and threw to Trevor Hollister at first to thwart another Hornet opportunity.
The Bulldogs finally woke up the bats, starting with a single by the number nine hitter Bialzik in the bottom of the third frame. Joles surprised everyone by pushing a bunt up the first base line that nobody could field for a hit. A passed ball moved them both up a base and after a foul pop up for an out, Retz came through with a double to left center to bring both runners home. Retz moved to third on a tag up from Trevor Hollister’s fly ball but a pop up left him on third. But, that two-run lead was looking mighty big.
After whiffing the lead-off batter in the top of the fourth, Retz had his second blip when he gave up a solid double to left field. But, as the saying goes, “No Worries” as he calmly struck out a batter and forced a weak ground ball to Hollister at first to end the inning.
The Bulldogs left another runner on the base paths in the bottom of the frame when Chase Hollister was plunked by a pitch and his teammates couldn’t bring him home. However, Retz had a 1-2-3 inning with two ground ball outs and another K to get his team into the bottom of the fifth.
Joles started the Boyceville fifth by getting nailed by a pitch and of course stole second on the first pitch to Sempf, who was then hit by another errant pitch. Both were credited with a stolen base as they moved up, and Retz took a free pass to load the bases. Trevor Hollister brought the third run of the game in with a sacrifice fly but, a pair of strikeouts ensued to end the inning with two Bulldogs on base.
Two strikeouts by Retz sandwiched around a pop up to first base ended the top of the sixth, and the large crowd of Bulldog fans were starting to buzz. Although it wasn’t going to be necessary, Boyceville added a fourth run in their half when McRoberts banged a single and moved up on a wild pitch, then scored on a single from Bialzik for a 4-0 lead.
There was pretty much no doubt that the rest of this game was in the hands of Retz and his defense. He started the seventh with a strikeout, Roemhild snared a fly ball in right and, as mentioned before, a final K put the exclamation point on the win.
In a post-game interview, Joles, the varsity catcher for his entire high school career, said, “We all came together as a team and set our goal to win state and we did it. Our first goal was to beat Webster and we dominated them in the sectional game. Walker pitched a gem of a game tonight and he was really locked in. It was so great to see all these fans here to cheer us on while we reached our goal.”
Retz also commented after the win, “This means a ton,” he said. “I know a lot of guys that were on the 2000 team, that were the runners-up at state, were here and they supported us the whole way. We kind of did it for them,” he added.
Boyceville collected just five hits in the contest with Bialzik leading with two with an RBI and a run scored. Joles was 1-for-3 and came home twice, and Retz and McRoberts both had a hit with McRoberts scoring once.
Retz was lights out, facing only 23 batters and giving up one hit while striking out 13 Hornets in his final game as a Bulldog.
“This was the game these guys had been working for all their high school careers,” coach Roemhild said. “They’ve dreamed of this since playing catch in their backyard as kids. I loved our focus, communication and determination throughout the whole game. Defensively, we were where we were suppose to be the whole time and we made the plays we had to, resulting in an error-free game. I thought Trett caught a great game, our outfielders were constantly moving, our infielders were on their toes, and Walker pitched another gem,” he added.
“Offensively, we didn’t have a lot of hits but we made them throw a lot of pitches and we put the bat on the ball,” he continued.
“Trevor had three hits that would probably all have been home runs on a normal high school field and he had a huge RBI for us. Trett did a great job getting on base twice as our lead off batter and really ran the bases well. Ira had two hits and was really seeing the ball well at the end of the year,” continued Roemhild.
“And that is the perfect ending to a great story this year. 2021 Division 4 State Champions! I will never get tired of saying that. I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys. And this couldn’t have happened without my great coaching staff. They don’t always get the credit they deserve and they sacrificed a lot of time not being with their own family to see this ending happen. I can’t express my gratitude enough to my family, my coaches’ families and the player’s parents for the sacrifices they made!” he concluded.