Coming into the season, Andrew Zeidler didn't have a prominent role in Marquette's pitching staff.
But as the Hilltoppers searched for consistent innings on the mound to support a powerful offense, the junior emerged as a top option and earned enough trust from the Hilltoppers coaching staff to get the ball in a sectional final game.
Zeidler didn't disappoint, facing the minimum in a three-hit shutout to help Marquette reach the state tournament for the second straight season with an 8-0 win over Waukesha North on July 17 at Brookfield Central High School.
"At the end of the day, we didn't hit enough and we didn't score any runs," Waukesha North coach Dan D'Amico said. "You are not going to win any games when you don't score. We had to do a better job of putting the ball in play and finding some holes. It just didn't work out for us today."
Hilltoppers strike early
With ace Dylan Conrad having thrown a complete game in a 4-1 sectional semifinal victory over Brookfield Central earlier in the day, Waukesha North turned to freshman Johnny Kelliher to start the sectional final.
Marquette wasted little time jumping on the left-hander in the first inning, as Zach Nogalski led off with a single, moved to second on balk, stole third base and scored one batter later on a base hit by Peter Ahn.
Ahn moved to third on a single by Zach Schmidt, but a failed double-steal attempt by the Hilltoppers ended the inning.
Niko Kershner reached on an error, and Rob Gueldner singled to give Marquette two on with nobody out in the second.
After Ian Boho sacrificed the runners to second and third, Brandon Hafemann made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly to center. Nogalski followed with a two-out single to score Gueldner and chase Kelliher from the game.
Waukesha North turned to senior Jamie Dewitt, who walked Ryan Hecht and Ahn to load the bases before engaging in a long at-bat with Pat Sisk.
The Furman University commit roped the seventh pitch of the at-bat for a bases-clearing double to center field to put the Hilltoppers up 6-0.
"A statistic we like to track is winning 3-2 counts as hitters," Marquette coach Sal Bando Jr. said. "That was a big blow, no question."
Zeidler in control
Zeidler started an early nonconference game against Nicolet and allowed seven runs. He had pitched just eight innings before he held Menomonee Falls to just one run over six innings on June 19.
A week later, he threw six scoreless frames against Tosa East. Sussex Hamilton hit the left-hander for eight runs (two earned) in two innings in the Greater Metro Conference tournament, but there was no carryover into sectionals.
The Northstars recorded three hits and drew three walks, but all six runners were erased on the bases, allowing Zeidler to face the minimum 21 batters in seven innings.
"Andrew is a great story," Bando said. "After his first outing of the year, I didn't think he was going to pitch again all year. Every outing after his first he just pitched better and better and worked his way to the No. 2 spot in our rotation.
"You saw what he can do today. He threw strikes and used the defense behind him."
Dewitt hit into a double play after Colin Schumacher drew a one-out walk in the second. The Hilltoppers turned a twin killing off a Kelliher groundball to erase a Ben Lovelien single in the third.
Taylor Anderson singled to start the fourth but was called out for leaving second base early while attempting to tag to third later in the inning.
Schumacher was doubled off first on a line drive hit by Dewitt after walking in the fifth, and Kelliher was picked off following a one-out walk in the sixth.
"We had a feeling we were going to see him coming in," D'Amico said. "As coaches, we'd seen him pitch live a couple of time. We knew he had good stuff and knew he could mix it up. We knew what to expect.
"You try to give them as much of a report as you possibly can, but it comes down to seeing it and hitting it. He did a good job of keeping us off balance and we couldn't barrel it up today."
North senior class impacted program
When the nine graduating seniors on the Waukesha North roster were freshmen, the Northstars were at the bottom of the Classic 8 Conference.
Seven of those seniors started July 17 in the program's second consecutive trip to sectional play.
"We just want them at some point tonight to take a deep breath and reflect back on what we've done this year and what this group of seniors has done," D'Amico said. "They took over a program that was 4-24 when they were freshmen.
"Now they've won two straight regional championships and have been in competition for conference championships. This group has done a lot for this program and this school. They set a new standard. Now it is up to the younger guys to pick it up and continue to move it forward."
New faces, same result
Marquette returns to state for the second consecutive season with almost an entirely different roster than the team that finished as the state runner-up in 2016.
Only Ahn and Hecht started last season's state championship game and the sectional final against Waukesha North.
The Hilltoppers will face Kiel in the first WIAA state semifinal at 11:35 a.m. Friday, July 21 at Kapco Park.
"We lost so many guys from last year's team," Bando said. "That was a highly-touted team, very talented. But these guys came together and played for each other. I'm just proud that they are back there. They did it.