Simple economics, and perhaps a dash of philosophy, preclude high-school baseball from utilizing video replay the way its Major League counterpart does, and it's hard to imagine a scenario where the technology trickles down to the varsity level.
Thus, baseball remains a game where human error plays a role, and for Waukesha North, a game of 'what if.'
A controversial call gave Pewaukee the baserunner it needed in the seventh inning of the WIAA summer baseball sectional semifinal July 18, and that runner would come around to score on a two-out error that gave the Pirates a 1-0 win over North at Brookfield Central. It was a sequence of events that left North fans stunned, and steaming on the 90-degree afternoon.
'Right now, it's hard for everybody to look at what we ended up doing; obviously this isn't how we wanted to finish,' said coach Dan D'Amico of a season where the Northstars took second place in the Classic 8 and 21-11 overall, with the first playoff win for the program in 15 years. 'When we have time to settle down and reflect, I think everybody's going to realize how good of a season this was and where this has put the program at. … In the grand scheme of things, what we've done this year is tremendous. But in the grand scheme of things, it's just the first step.'
The game was decided, perhaps, by another step.
Ryan Mulvey of Pewaukee laced what appeared to be a clean single to right field with one out in the seventh of a scoreless game, one that had been a tense pitchers' duel between Pewaukee's Carl Renz and Waukesha North's Nick Dorshorst. But right fielder Jamie DeWitt flagged down the quick hop and fired a perfect strike to Dylan Conrad at first – a play that appeared to get Mulvey by a step.
But the call was safe.
'It was by far one of the worst calls I've ever seen,' D'Amico said calmly. 'There's just no other way to go about it. To take this away from these kids that have worked this hard on a call like that and just anticipating what you think you might see instead of what actually happened, it's a travesty. The fact of the matter is, we did a great job of coming back. Nick got a ground ball. You're a little on edge because things are a little tighter, you're thinking about the guy at second now instead of a much easier situation. The fact of the matter is, we should have made that play.'
He was talking about what came next. Pewaukee's Teddie Nevermann sacrificed Mulvey to second, and with two outs, Renz sent a bouncer to Jacob Pryor at third base. The throw sailed over Conrad's head, and Mulvey came around to score the only run of the contest.
'I couldn't feel worse for the kid who threw it away,' D'Amico said. 'He's another one who's a leader on our team; he's worked harder than anybody I've ever met, and my heart breaks for him right now.'
Dorshorst walked two batters and allowed six hits, but prior to the final play, both teams had put a runner as far as third base only one time each.
'When Nick's on the mound, we expect we're going to get a good effort out of him, we expect he's going to keep us out of the game, give us a chance to win,' D'Amico said. 'You don't always expect what he gave us tonight, but he did what Nick does. He's a tremendous leader. Someone we look up to and someone we follow. He put us on his back tonight, and unfortunately we just couldn't finish it off for him.'
North salvaged just three hits off Renz.
'Our kids kind of know a little bit about him, so I think they got caught up in the fastball, and that allowed him to get his breaking ball down, and we weren't recognizing it well,' D'Amico said. 'He's doing a good job of mixing things up. We haven't seen too many pitchers this year throwing that many breaking balls with two strikes and being that confident in his breaking ball in the counts he was throwing them in. I think it threw us off a little bit. Credit to him, he's a phenomenal pitcher.'
The Pirates used some trickery to escape a two-on, one-out jam in the top of the seventh. Renz faked a pickoff throw at second base, with infielders behaving as if the ball had skipped into the outfield grass. That left a sitting-duck baserunner at second, but even that play ended in controversy when the ball squirted free after Renz ran over for the tag.
'I thought the ball popped out of his glove after he made the tag, because the ball ended up in left field,' D'Amico said. 'There was no reason for him to have to throw anywhere (and for the umpire to rule it was lost in the transfer). I thought he lost it when he dove (for the tag). The umpire obviously saw it the other way, trying to throw out the guy who ended up advancing to second. I didn't see it that way.
'Unfortunately I saw it the whole way, but I yelled 'no,' and he thought I yelled 'go.' I probably should have yelled 'stay' in hindsight. It's just one of those things.'
Renz issued six walks but struck out 10 batters. Pewaukee went on to lose to Marquette in the sectional final later that day, 10-0.
North tops Tosa East
At one point in the 1990s and early 2000s, Wauwatosa East and Waukesha North were regularly collecting wins in the postseason. But of late, both programs have endured years of struggle.
That made the fact the Red Raiders and Northstars were meeting in a WIAA regional final on July 15 a significant step for each school.
Third-seeded Waukesha North continued its resurgence by pulling away late in a 7-2 win over sixth-seeded Wauwatosa East at Frame Park.
It was Waukesha North's first playoff win since 2002 and its first regional championship since 2001.
'We came out with a game plan to be aggressive at the plate and aggressive on the mound,' D'Amico said. 'We tried not to take anyone lightly. We told them if we came out and played the game we played all year we'd be OK. I think we did a nice job of doing that.'
With a 1-0 lead in the fifth, Ben Lovelien doubled to left with two outs to score a pair and put the Northstars up, 3-0. After a walk, Logan Kozak connected for a two-run double off Red Raiders reliever Isaac Martin to make it 5-0.
'We can hit,' D'Amico said. 'We're not shocked that it happened, but we're happy it came at the time that it did.'
Wauwatosa East got to North starter Conrad in the sixth, scoring two runs to pull to within 5-2. But North added two insurance runs with two out sin the sixth, with Conrad helping himself and scoring two runs with a double.
Conrad allowed just two runs on nine hits.
After winning just two games in 2014, the Northstars jumped to 14 wins in 2015 and 21 in 2016.
'You can't lie and say that it is not a big deal because it is,' D'Amico said. 'Coming in to the year, our first goal was to win a playoff game. Now that we've accomplished that, our next goal is to do something more. We know we have bigger plans.'