The WIAA summer baseball tournament kicked off Tuesday, and Whitnall ace Josh Serio was in full playoff mode.
Serio was one out away from pitching a no-hitter over first-round opponent West Allis Central, but his bid was spoiled when Bulldogs sophomore Jason Alvarez smacked a two-out triple to the wall in right center in the top of the seventh inning.
Unfazed, the junior hurler retired the next batter, and the Falcons happily settled for a 5-0 shutout victory and a date in Friday’s regional final against Greendale.
In addition to allowing the lone hit, Serio struck out 14 and walked just one.
“We’re just looking for him to pound the zone,” Whitnall head coach Ben Krey said. “For whatever the reason, the last couple games he wasn’t doing that, he was staying up. So it was very nice to see him working low; he had a good mix.”
The Falcons scored their first two runs in the second inning. Junior catcher Zach Sutton reached on an error and was bunted to second by John Caron. Central looked like it might escape with no damage when Alvarez went behind the third base bag to snag Nick Cimler’s two-out bouncer, but his short throw skipped by first baseman Mike Phillips, allowing Sutton to score.
Whitnall junior Sam Mentkowski followed with a single to right field, driving in Cimler.
“That was a turning point,” Central head coach Rick Hoppert said. “(Getting that out) may have set a different kind of momentum.”
With Serio on the mound, however, it may not have made much difference. The Bulldogs failed to advance a runner past first base until Alvarez’s triple.
“That is our main struggle, generating offense,” said Hoppert. “And Serio was very, very good.”
Somewhat lost in the fray was a game performance by Central starter Michael Manlick. The sophomore mixed his fastball and slow curve well enough to keep the Bulldogs within striking distance, but a handful of defensive errors allowed Whitnall to score three unearned runs in the first five innings.
“I thought (Manlick) did a good job keeping them off balance,” Hoppert said, “but we have been prone to giving a few extra outs here and there.”
The Falcons added two insurance runs in the sixth inning on an RBI triple by Cimler, who then scored on Mentkowski’s fourth single of the game. Mentkowski finished 4 for 4 with a run scored and two RBI.
“(Mentkowski) was wearing No. 4, you know, the Ignitor, so he was doing what he needed to do,” Krey said in reference to Milwaukee Brewers legend Paul Molitor. “He did everything you ask your leadoff hitter to do, just being smart both at the plate and on the basepaths.”
Due to his low pitch count, Krey believes Serio could be able to pitch again on Friday, an important factor in Whitnall’s chances of continued survival.
“We get behind him, and we think we can beat just about any team,” said Krey. “But we have to keep playing this way. We stumbled last week, but that was last week. This is a new week. We’re building confidence, and if we play the mental part of the game ... we believe we can knock off anyone.”
Central finished this season 4-24, but Hoppert is optimistic his young team is on the rise. The Bulldogs lose only one senior to graduation, shortstop Dane Travers.
“It’s a little sour to lose when you pitch your number one and he pitches pretty well, but compared to the way we played last season, we’ve come a long way and are excited about our pitching depth heading into next year,” Hoppert said.
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