Reality check: Battle-tested Washington Township brings LaCrosse back to Earth
LACROSSE -- For LaCrosse, off to its best start in program history at 4-0, it was probably its biggest baseball game since 2002, when the Tigers won their last sectional.
For Class A power Washington Township, the 2019 state runner-up who had already faced five 3A or 4A opponents, including Andrean, this season, it was just another day at the ball yard.
"We tell 'em over and over, I don't care who you're playing, the game is against yourself," Senators coach Randy Roberts said. "Most of the time, the team that wins and loses is in this dugout. There are very few games where you get the crap beat out of you."
Friday was one of those days for upstart LaCrosse, which crashed back to Earth with an 18-0 five-inning thrashing in the Porter County Conference opener.
"This is the first solid, really good team we've played," LaCrosse coach Eric Snyder said. "I think we got a little ahead of themselves, but it's not their fault. They were 4-0 for the first time ever. Good for them. But like I told Randy, we haven't played anybody. I told a couple people before the game, we will either win this game or lose it 20-0. That's the way it worked out. We've got two kids ever who have played varsity baseball. We're young, very inexperienced, and they got a lesson. Randy said, I'm sorry, I know you work. I said, thank you, we needed that."
Washington (3-3) did what it always does. On offense, it worked counts, it walked, it went with pitches, it bunted, it executed hit and runs. On the mound, it threw strikes and worked ahead in counts. On defense, it made all (OK, almost all) the handful of plays when the Tigers (4-1) put the ball in play.
"I know that coach Snyder works 'em hard and I told the kids before we came over here, don't be expecting the same team you've faced your whole life," Roberts said. "We were coming at this with the same intensity we were coming after Andrean. We weren't taking anything for granted. We respected that and got after it. We did well. We've just got to keep getting better. It was a good night for us, but there are a lot of things to work on if we're going to reach our goals."
That goal is a return trip to Victory Field for the Senators, who boast plenty of experience, a rare commodity this spring, when most teams have little varsity mileage due to the loss of the 2020 season.
"We have 11 seniors and one junior," Colin Majda said. "We're pretty old this year. There were like three or four starters and four or five who chipped in. We're hoping for a good year. We want to play the big schools just to be prepared."
Washington scored six in the second and seven in the third with Majda's Little League grand slam, a bases-loaded triple to right field, followed by an error, the biggest blow.
"They were mostly throwing outside and low the whole game, so we had to go with the pitch, take it where it was at," said Majda, who went 4-for-4 with three runs and four RBI. "We were just looking for the best pitch to hit. You don't want to stand there and watch the good pitches. You don't know if you're going to get the same pitch. You want to hit the first good pitch you see."
Caden Heminger, who threw out a no-hitter in his first start, had a rough go of it against his former schoolmates. The Valparaiso transfer attended Washington Township through eighth grade. He walked six and hit two, while allowing eight hits in two-plus innings.
"He's a kid I always said, if he stuck with it, by the time he's a junior or senior, he can be good," Roberts said. "He's always had a pitcher's frame. Eric will get something out of him."
LaCrosse managed just two base runners off three Senators pitchers, its only hit coming on an infield single by Blain Rust on a roller to third in the first inning. Steve Hernandez fanned four in three innings, allowing an infield hit. He picked off the Tigers' only other baserunner.
"I was really disapppointed our pitchers didn't throw strikes, but more than anything, once we got down, our heads went down," Snyder said. "I basically told them about the third inning, if I see another head go down, you won't play again the rest of the year. We can't do that. I said all week, if you make mistakes, you will lose. They're as good as anybody around. They take advantage of everything. It was a good butt kicking. We've got so many young kids and some really good young kids coming up. Now they know what it looks like. This gives us a vision of what we want to be."
In addition 10 walks, Washington had 11 hits with Brett Boettcher and Hernandez backing Majda with two each. Jack Hawkins drove in three runs and Hernandez two.
"We knew it wasn't going to be the same LaCrosse team. They were going to be better and they were," said Majda, who went sleeveless despite the cool temperatures. "We were just jumping on the fastball the whole game."