Toppers falter in last week of conference schedule, rebound on senior night

A Catholic Central second baseman applies the tag to nab a Kenosha St. Joe’s runner in a pickle May 17 at Simmons Field in Kenosha. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)


By Mike Ramczyk

Catholic Central baseball head coach Jim Friend was livid after last Thursday’s game at Simmons Field in Kenosha, the home of the Kenosha Kingfish.

He just witnessed his team fall to Kenosha St. Joe’s, 7-2, a crushing blow since the Toppers still had an outside shot at the Metro Classic Conference title.

What hurt more is the fact that the Toppers committed five errors.

With his players taking a knee on the first-base line in right field, Friend was animated, imploring his guys to clean up the mental side of the game with the playoffs looming.

The Toppers earned a No. 2 seed in the WIAA Division 4 playoffs, which open in Burlington Tuesday, May 29.

Friend even joked that the next four weeks should be strictly about baseball and the ultimate goal – a trip to state.

“I told them to tell their girlfriends to take a break,” he joked after the game. “Tell them you’re busy for the next four weeks. If they really like you, they’ll be there in four weeks for you.”

All jokes aside, Catholic Central finished a strong season 12-7, thanks in part to a 6-2 mark in their last eight including a five-game win streak.

Catholic Central finished 10-4 in the MCC, two games behind state-ranked Martin Luther (11-1).

Friend wasn’t happy about the error-filled loss at Kenosha, but he said it’s been an overall good season.

“It was the first game where we had two bad innings,” he said. “But I’m excited. We’ve been pitching well, and everybody is starting to come together hitting-wise. We’ve just got to get rid of the mental bug-a-boo. You have to be mentally tough.”

Against St. Joe’s, which the Toppers beat two days earlier, pitcher Jimmy Keeker got out of a bases-loaded jam with a 1-2-3 double play in the bottom of fifth before a two-run single extended the Trojans’ lead to 7-2.

In the top of the sixth, Marcus Robinson and Chad Zirbel smashed singles, and John Huffman beat out a bunt single to load the bases with two outs.

But a pop out to second ended the Toppers’ last legitimate threat.

Charles Robinson pitched a clean seventh, but Catholic Central was shut down in the seventh.

The day before, the sub-.500 Racine Lutheran/Prairie Crusaders scored three runs in two different frames and upset the Toppers, 8-2.

Catholic Central was held to only four hits, and Marcus Robinson and Zirbel were tagged for eight earned runs.

Frank Koehnke had an RBI triple, and Zirbel went 2-for-3.

“We came out flat,” Friend said.


Finishing strong

The Toppers finished the season with a 10-0 drubbing of visiting Division 1 Racine Park May 18 on Senior Night at Beaumont Field.

Everyone got into the act, as the Toppers pounded out 13 hits.

Huffman was 3-for-4, and Charles Robinson, Tyler Swanson and Tyler Rieck all added two hits apiece.

Zirbel, Koehnke, Marcus Robinson and Chas Miles each collected a hit.

On the mound, Miles started and was brilliant, allowing only three hits and striking out two in three innings.

Cade Dirksmeyer added three stellar innings of one-hit ball.

Friend is OK with the No. 2 seed, though he asked for the No. 1.

Top-seeded Johnson Creek, ranked one spot ahead of the Toppers at No. 9 in the state rankings, had the same record as the Toppers at the time of the seeding meeting.

Furthermore, the Metro Classic was strong this season.

Catholic Central will look to recreate the magic of 2016, when it advanced to a sectional final and nearly snuck into the state tournament.

“So we go to their place and beat them,” Friend said about Johnson Creek. “It’s disappointing because we would’ve had two home games. Now we have one home game, then travel. Our goal is to get to sectionals, because anything can happen.”