Monday, July 27, 2015

Rebels Sweep Raiders

The Genesee Rebels won two big baseball games on Sunday afternoon when the Rome Raiders came to town. The Rebels received two stellar pitching performances, nearly flawless defense, and timely hitting on the way towards notching their 8th and 9th victories on the year. The two wins have the Rebels sitting firmly in 3rd place in the Southwest Division with 3 games to go. They are only a half game behind the East Troy Express who they play next Sunday. That game will be incredibly important for determining home field advantage in the playoffs.

The story of Game 1 was an excellent defensive performance by the Rebels. Matt DeMarais took the mound for the Rebels and turned in a stellar performance. He retired the first 9 batters he faced before having to pitch out of a one out, 1st and 3rd jam in the 4th inning. The 4th inning would give the Raiders their best chance to score as they placed their only runner of the game in scoring position before two pop-outs ended the threat. Only 4 Raiders reached base the entire game thanks to a few diving catches by the Rebels and a well called game behind the plate by veteran catcher Andy Sturtevant. On the day, DeMarais would strike out 7 Rome hitters and allow only three hits.

With the Rebels playing solid defense, they knew they had to score at least one run for a chance at the win. The first three innings saw the Rebels feeling frustrated at the plate as they placed a runner in scoring position in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd inning but could not come up with the big two-out hit. Genesee finally got on the board in the 4th inning when Andy Sturtevant led off with a single and was moved to third on back-to-back fielder's choice groundouts which brought up Chris Theisen. Theisen smashed a hard ground ball towards second that was too hot to handle for the Raider second baseman allowing Sturtevant to score.

The Rebels would get three more runs in the 5th as they took advantage of two walks to get runners on first and second. With two outs, Andy Sturtevant delivered a big two-run double that scored Bauer and Elliott. Sturtevant moved to third on the throw home and scored on the next pitch as it skidded to the back stop. The Rebels would add to their lead in the 6th as Bourassa and Theisen each crossed the plate to give them a final score of 6-0.

Game 2 was almost a carbon copy of game one. This time, it was Keith Koehn who turned in the excellent pitching performance. He was also helped out by stellar defense behind him including the Land O Lakes debut of catcher Nathan Labott who just finished his high school career with the Waukesha West Wolverines. Labott provided and immediate boost to the Rebels as he did not allow a single ball to the backstop and threw out the first runner who tried to steal on him. Koehn found himself in a bases loaded jam with one out in the second inning before inducing an inning-ending double play ball. He would only allow one run on the day while striking out 4 on his way to the complete game victory.

Just as in game one, the defense came up huge. First baseman Chris Elliott made a diving play on a hard smash down the line that would have easily made ESPN's Top 10 list while outfielders Chris Theisen and Mike Hodel added sliding catches of their own. Despite the random and extremely awkward hops that Genesee Town Park provides to ground balls, the Rebels held their own and helped keep the Raiders off the board.

Offensively, the Rebels got on the board in the 3rd when rookie Nathan Labott scored on a Keith Koehn triple to the wall. They would get one more in the fourth before putting the game out of reach with a 5-run 5th inning. The Rebels would knock four doubles in the 5th inning alone as the first five batters to come up scored. The 7 runs would be more than enough for the Rebels to put the short-handed Raiders out of their misery.

The two wins for the Rebels gave them the potential to move up on 2nd place East Troy, however, the Express were able to eek out two extra-inning wins against Burlington to hold steady ahead of Genesee. First place Waterford also escaped disaster by pulling off a double-header sweep of Dousman by the close scores of 9-7 and 4-2 to remain alone atop the standings with a 12-1 record.

As it stands now, there appears to be two races to keep an eye on as the season winds down. Waterford seems to have a lock on a first place finish and automatic bid to the Grand Championships. While they could lose two of their last three to end with a potential tie with East Troy, that scenario is extremely unlikely.

Directly behind Waterford, however, there is an interesting battle for second place. East Troy sits with a record of 9-3 and the Rebels sit at 9-4. The two of them play next Sunday. Genesee won the previous match up this year, so the Express will be looking for revenge. The second and third seed will each earn at least one home playoff game while the second seed could clinch home field advantage for both rounds.

Behind the Rebels, there are three teams who each have 7 losses on the year. North Prairie, Oconomowoc, and Burlington will be fighting tooth and nail to save their seasons and clinch a playoff birth. With only the top 5 teams in the division earning playoff births this year, one of these teams will end the season on the outside. Burlington and Oconomowoc face off on August 8th which very well could be the determining game as the season winds down.

With three games remaining, the Rebels need only 1 victory to clinch a playoff birth and a home game in round one of the playoffs. They would much rather end the season with the 2 seed and home field advantage throughout. They will need to continue to play flawless over the remaining three games as East Troy has shown no signs of letting up. Whatever games you are watching, the final three weeks of the season promises to be exciting for the Southwest Division.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Southwest Set Up for a Wild Finish

After two-thirds of the season, the Southwest Division finds themselves poised for a wild finish to the 2015 campaign. If anything, the last two weeks have proven that no week is a "safe week" and no team is assured of a victory. The Genesee Rebels were fortunate to have a BYE during the last week as every single team other than Burlington sustained one loss. The end result of a crazy weekend of games is that EVERY SINGLE TEAM IN THE DIVISION still has a chance at making the playoffs. That will make for a very interesting and exciting final third of the season. Currently, there are really three teams that have a shot at winning the regular season title and earning an automatic bid to the Grand Championships. Remember, this year, the regular season champ along with the playoff champion makes it to the Grannies. This makes the regular season much more important and gives each team a fighting chance to make it.

If the season ended right now, here's what would happen:
1. Waterford would be the regular season champ and earn an automatic bid to the Grand Championships.
2. East Troy and Genesee would host playoff games as the 2 and 3 seeds respectively.
3. North Prairie would travel to Genesee and Burlington would travel to East Troy as the 4 and 5 seeds respectively.

But, the season is not over and there is still much left to be determined. So, here's a quick glance at where everybody stands as they enter the final stretch of the season:

1st Place: Waterford: 10-1
Waterford sustained their first loss of the season to the East Troy Express on Sunday losing 8-12. The loss gives the rest of the division a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, there's a chance that they could be dethroned as the regular season champs. The Rivermen have 5 games remaining on the season; 2 against Dousman, Rome, Burlington, and Genesee. While the Rivermen cruised through their first 10 games, the rest of the division is playing tough ball as of late. With anyone capable of winning, the Rivermen will have to bring their A-game (which they are more than capable of doing) to finish the season atop the standings and earn the automatic bid.

2nd Place: East Troy: 7-3
The Express were able to split their weekend series with Waterford which gives them a shot at capturing the regular season title and have them riding a wave of confidence heading into the final stretch. With 3 losses on the year, they will need some help from the rest of the division to make a charge at the title, but they are more than capable of winning the rest of their games. They finish with a DH against Burlington, a tough Saturday/Sunday back-to-back with Oconomowoc and Genesee, and singles against North Prairie and Ixonia If the Express continue playing the way they can, they will surely make the playoffs and even have a shot at the title. They need to be careful, however, as the rest of the division has them in their sights.

3rd Place: Genesee Rebels: 7-4
The Rebels headed into their final bye week with a tough loss to the Titans but still find themselves in a good position to end the year. With games against both East Troy and Waterford to end the year, the Rebels have a betting chance at a 2nd place finish and an outside shot and leapfrogging to the top. They will need to be flawless throughout the remainder of the season and get help from the rest of the division, but there is still a chance. They finish the year with a DH against Rome and singles against Dousman, East Troy, and Waterford. It's a tough schedule to end the year and, if they aren't careful, could find themselves adding more numbers to the loss column instead of the win column. If they play their best ball they should finish the year strong.

4th Place: North Prairie Dawgs: 5-6
After a blistering start to the season, the Dawgs have seen themselves struggling over the last few weeks. They are a team that can beat anyone in the division, but they have also proven that they can lose to anyone in the division. On Sunday, they split with Ixonia which put them below .500 on the year. They are definitely not dead as they have the ability to play very solid baseball. If they can escape the errors and make other teams beat them, they are still a threat. They end with a DH against Oconomowoc, a single against East Troy, and a DH against Dousman. Don't count them out.

5th Place: Burlington Barons: 4-5
The Barons currently find themselves in 5th place and, if the season ended today, the holders of the last playoff spot. This is unfamiliar territory for the Barons as they are used to sitting closer to the top of the division. Don't be fooled by their record. They are still one of the best teams in the division and capable of beating anyone. On Sunday, they may have saved their season with a hard fought 2-1 victory over the Titans. That victory may prove to be huge for Burlington as they look to hold on for a playoff birth. If they make the playoffs, there's no telling what they can do. They have a tough road to end the year, however, as they still have 7 games on the schedule. They have a tough DH with East Troy followed by a DH against Ixonia, a difficult Saturday / Sunday with Oconomowoc and Waterford, and they still need to reschedule a game with Dousman. The 7 games over the final stretch could propel the Barons in either direction.

6th Place: Oconomowoc Titans: 4-6
The Titans are a different team than they have been over the past few years, but they are still young, talented, and hungry for victories. A tough 1-2 loss on Sunday may have put them in a tough spot, but they are very much alive in the hunt for the postseason. The Titans have a very important DH against North Prairie coming up next week followed by a Saturday / Sunday against East Troy and Dousman before finishing with singles against Burlington and Rome. The Titans will need their pitching and defense to come up huge if they hope to jump into playoff contention. Their DH against North Prairie will give them a better idea of where they stand as the season finishes up.

7th Place: Rome Raiders: 4-7
The Raiders are an interesting conundrum. It took them quite a few weeks to notch their first victory, but they have been playing very solid baseball as of late. An almost definite victory for their opponents earl in the season has turned into an area of concern. The Raiders can play with anyone. On Sunday, they played two tough games with Dousman en route to a split. They still have a lot to prove, but they are definitely not rolling over for their opponents. They end the year with an all-important DH against Genesee and singles against Waterford, Ixonia, and Oconomowoc. The DH against Genesee will either propel them into playoff contention, or bury them near the bottom of the division.

8th Place: Dousman Frogs: 3-6
The frogs have found themselves on the short end of the stick more than a few times this year. They have had their fair share of toss losses as they are a better team than their record indicates. On Sunday, they lost an extra-inning affair with Rome before taking game two of the DH. A sweet on Sunday may have ended their season, but they are more than capable of finding themselves in the playoffs at the end of the year. With 7 games remaining, they have some tough sledding ahead, but they could very easily end the year on a high note. If they can survive a tough DH against Waterford this coming week, they have singles against Genesee and Oconomowoc, a Saturday/Sunday against North Prairie to end the season and still need to reschedule against Burlington. The good news for them is they play teams that are ahead of them in the standings and could leapfrog a few with victories. The bad news is they play teams that are ahead of them in the standings and could lose a few more tough ones before the season is over.

9th Place: Ixonia Snappers: 3-9
The Snappers played two close games with North Prairie on Sunday and were able to salvage a split. The victory kept their playoff chances alive as they could hypothetically finish the season and find themselves in the playoffs. They would need to win out AND get a lot of help from the division. The good news for them is they are not dead. At least, not yet. The Snappers have shown offensive life at times throughout the year, but still need to find some help on the mound. The Snappers finish with a DH against Burlington and singles against Rome and East Troy. The Snappers look to play spoiler over their last four games and will show up ready to go.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Titans End Rebels Streak

The Genesee Rebels saw their 5 game win streak come to a grinding halt Sunday afternoon when the Oconomowoc Titans came to town and stole a victory. The Titans got revenge for an early season loss to the Rebels as they pounded out 18 hits and scored 13 runs on their way to the victory. The loss puts the Rebels at 7-4 on the season and has them sitting firmly in 3rd place in the Southwest Division.

The game started out in the Titans' favor as they were able to plate one run in the top of the first inning off of Rebel starter Keith Koehn. In their previous matchup, Koehn was masterful as he kept the Oconomowoc hitters off balance en route to a complete game victory. That was not to be today as the Titans had his number early and often.

After finding themselves in an early hole, the Rebels offense answered in the 2nd inning with a two out rally. Lucas Bourassa launched a 2-out double to the left field fence that plated Kyle Stasik and was followed by an error by the Titan third baseman which brought him in. Mark Switalski then singled putting runners on the corners. Two pitches later, Swit stole second base and no Titan decided to cover second base. The throw from the catcher flew into center field which brought Heckenkamp to the plate. At the end of the second, the Rebels were up 3-1.

Koehn put the Titans down in order and the Rebels followed it up with two more runs in the third. A Chris Elliott walk and a Kyle Stasik single were followed by a picture perfect sac bunt from Dave Hellman and a two run single by Lucas Bourassa. It was small ball to perfection! The Rebels could have added more, but Chris Theisen was thrown out at third base as he attempted to take it on a pitch in the dirt. After three innings, the Rebels were cruising and up 5-1.

Then, the wheels fell off. We'll spare you the details, but the Titans seemed to find every single hole on the field and the baseball gods were definitely in their favor as they swatted 9 hits and plated 9 runs off of Koehn before he was pulled. DeMarais came in and got the elusive third out, but the damage was done. The Titans had reclaimed the lead and found themselves up 10-5.

The Rebels would not go quietly however as they were able to get one run back in the 5th and then mount a rally in the 6th to bring 4 runs across. Heading into the bottom of the 8th, the Rebels found themselves down by only one run. Dave Hellman started the inning with a single and was lifted for a pinch runner (Nelson Heckenkamp). Chris Theisen then bunted for a hit to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Lucas Bourassa completed his perfect day at the plate by laying down a sac bunt which put put runners on second and third with nobody out. That would be where they stayed, however, as the Titans brought their infield in and cut down Heckenkamp at the plate as he tried to score on an infield chopper directly to the short stop. Switalski then popped out to end the threat. A few unearned insurance runs in the top of the 9th would be more than enough for Oconomowoc to hold on for the victory.

Despite the tough loss, the Rebels are happy with where they find themselves after two thirds of the season. After starting the year 0-2, the have won 7 of their last 9 games and sit easily in third place behind the still undefeated Waterford and the East Troy Express who have two losses on the year, one of which was to the Rebels. With a bye coming up next week, the Rebels are poised to end the year strong. Their goal is to finish the year in second or third place to secure a home playoff game. It will be a tough feat for the Rebels as they have a double-header against a surging Rome team before they face off against the second place East Troy Express. They will then end the season against a tough Dousman team before the season finale at Waterford.

As the Rebels wind down the season, they will look to the top of their lineup to continue carrying the offense. Chris Elliott finds himself only .004 points away from a .400 batting average and is followed closely by Chris Theisen who is hitting .378 on the year. Matt Bauer and Keith Koehn are each hitting over .300 as well and Kyle Stasik and Lucas Bourassa find themselves surging offensively over the last few games. Defensively, rookie Brandon Molkentin has played solid all around the infield and Nick Heckenkamp has found a home behind the dish. The Rebels need both Koehn and DeMarais to "have their good stuff" working over the duration of the season. It looks like the Rebels will get some more defensive help when Nate Labott joins the team after the high school season ends.

The Rebels will enjoy the bye week to rest their arms, hone their skills, watch the scores as the rest of the league battles it out and get back to it on Sunday, July 26th when they host the Rome Raiders for a 12:00pm start.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Szajna Slides Rebels To a Sweep

The Genesee Rebels took advantage of solid pitching performances from Matt DeMarais and Keith Koehn, along with timely hitting, staunch defense, and some crafty baserunning by Brian Szajna to sweep the Burlington Barons in a double-header on Sunday afternoon. Genesee needed all 15 players to extend their winning streak to 5 games by winning two closely contested baseball games. Every single Rebel present was needed to help down the Barons and bring the Rebels into 3rd place in the Southwest Division.

Game 1 saw the Rebels once again jump on their opponents early on in the game. In the first inning, the Rebels loaded the bases but couldn't push a run across. Inning number 2 saw them continue to keep their feet on the gas pedal. Kyle Stasik led off the inning with a towering double to the right center gap and was followed by three straight walks that brought him across the plate. Keith Koehn singled to bring in Nelson Heckenkamp before Chris Elliott flew out to right for the first out of the inning. The Baron's almost got out of the jam before allowing another run but the "fleet-footed" catcher Andy Sturtevant beat out a would-be-inning-ending-double-play to bring rookie Kindall Wincek across for the third run of the inning.

The Barons would get on the board in the bottom of the third when Dylan Friend hit a one-out double down the left field line and scored on a single two at-bats later. But that would be the bulk of their scoring as DeMarais kept them off balance for most of the game.

The Rebels got that run back in the top of the fourth thanks to a Burlington miscue. Koehn and Elliott led off with back-to-back singles. The Baron pitcher calmed down and struck out the next two batters before Lucas Bourassa ripped a ground ball to third that the bounced away from the Burlington defender bringing in Koehn. That would end up being the last run the Rebels would score as the Barons cut down Koehn at the plate in the 6th inning when he tried to score on a passed ball and was called out on a bang-bang play that could have gone either way.

The Barons tried to mount a rally in the 6th with a single and a Hoffman double to put runners on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out. DeMarais induced a week ground out for out number 1 and Keith Koehn made a marvelous play on a tough hop with a rocket grounder to short for out number 2. The ground ball brought in a Burlington run, but that would prove to be it for the inning as DeMarais struck out the next batter to end the threat. The Barons would again get two base runners in the 7th inning but fail to put a run across as the Rebels defense came up big once again.

The Rebels would leave 14 runners on base in Game 1 as they are still searching for the big 2-out hits to bust games open. Of the 7 hits, Koehn had 4 and Elliott 2. Genesee proved once again that it could win a close game.

Game 2 was a very similar story to Game 1. The Rebels jumped on the Barons early with two runs in the first inning. With two outs, Chris Elliott smashed a double to the wall and was nearly picked off of 2nd as he rounded it a little too hard. When asked about the play he said, "I was feeling fast and thought I could have made it." Maybe next time Chris..... Andy Sturtevant then singled and was followed by an Aaron Dolan single to right that brought in Elliott. Theisen kept the rally going by adding another single which brought in Sturtevant. When the dust cleared, the Rebels had found their 2-out hits knocking four singles before the inning ended.

The Rebels would extend their lead in the 3rd inning thanks to a big Baron mistake. After getting the lead off man out, Burlington pitcher, Richter, hit Elliott and allowed a single to Sturtevant. With one out, it appeared the Barons would turn a double-play to get out of the inning. Dolan hit a grounder to Richter who fired to second base. Both the shortstop and the second baseman were breaking towards the bag and both held up at the same minute. The shortstop caught the ball behind second base and forgot to touch the base before firing it to first. The play at first was bang-bang with Dolan hustling down the line. Instead of turning two to get out of the inning, both runners were safe. The Barons were less than thrilled with the ruling by the umpires that Dolan had beat the throw to first base. There was no argument about the missed base at second, but apparently they felt that Dolan was out by at least 2-4 steps. A lengthy argument ensued with Barons hurtling insults and umping advice from all over the field. At the end of the debate, the Rebels had the bases loaded and the Barons were angry. Chris Theisen took advantage with an RBI fly to deep center which plated Elliott. Richter turned to some little league shenanigans to get the third out. Unbeknownst to him, the Rebels had the perfect runner on second base to fall for the trick. Apparently on tilt, Richter stood on the mound from the windup. Sturtevant's eyes got HUGE on second as he saw a chance to easily steal third. Richter pretended to go into the windup but instead moved his right foot off the rubber. As soon as he moved, Sturtevant bolted for third amidst a chorus of "B-A-C-K" calls from the dugout. It was too little too late as Sturtevant was easily tagged out at third base. The damage had been done as the Rebels now held a 3-run lead.

Burlington would put one run across in the bottom of the third thanks to a tight strike zone and back-to-back walks. Other than that, Koehn was cruising on the mound until the 6th inning. With the Rebels up 3-1, Burlington mounted a charge. After getting the first two outs, it was the Barons who found their 2-out-hits. A single by the nine hitter was followed by a triple to the right field fence and a single up the middle. After being in command for the entire game, Genesee now found themselves tied 3-3 going into the 7th.

It was now the Rebels turn to come up clutch. Brian Szajna stepped into the box as a pinch hitter. After finding himself down 0-2, he hit a weak ground ball to short. Using his speed, he beat out the throw for an infield single. Lucas Bourassa then laid down a textbook sacrifice bunt to move Szajna to 2nd. Matt Bauer flew out to left field to bring up Koehn with two outs. After working the count, Koehn hit another soft chopper towards short. On contact, Szajna bolted for third. As the shortstop charged the ball, Szajna rounded third base and watched for the throw to first. With Koehn hustling down the line, there would be no throw and the short stop did not handle the short-hop cleanly. As the ball tricked away in front of the fielder, Szajna saw his chance. With the catcher meandering towards first to back up the throw, Brian saw the plate unguarded. He turned on the jets and sprinted for home. The catcher realized his mistake and broke for the plate as the short stop fired the ball home. Szajna slid to the right of the plate sticking his left arm out and swiped it across just moments before the tag was slapped down. The winning run had crossed the plate! Now up 4-3, Koehn shut the Barons down in order in the 7th to notch the victory.

The two wins were huge for the Rebels who, after starting the year 0-2, have won 7 of their last 8 to bring their record to 7-3 on the year. It was the depth of the Rebels that proved effective as the starters and substitutions each played their roles to perfection. Another plus side was the amazing crowd that traveled to Burlington with the Rebels. It was great to see such a following and support from family and friends. One super fan even came to the rescue. With the Rebels needing a boost late in game 2, Allie Norgord sprinted across the parking and stormed into Walgreens to retrieve some much-needed water for the Rebels. With the refreshing and spirit-lifting H20 coursing through their bodies, Genesee was able to pull out the victory. Without Norgord, who knows what would have happened.

The Rebels return to action on Sunday, July 12th when they host the Titans of Oconomowoc. First pitch is scheduled for 1:30pm. The Titans are in need of a victory, so the Rebels need to bring their A-game. It's "Youth Day" at the park, so all youngsters in attendance will receive a free popsicle from the concession stand. With one game left before their next bye-week, the Rebels will look to keep their hot streak going.

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