Off the bat, it looked like it was going to hook foul, but Danny Tabaska kept it fair by a foot with a two-out double to score the game’s first two runs.
Aided by a second-consecutive complete-game shutout on the mound from Austin Paul, the Fort Atkinson Generals earned a 5-0 victory against Cottage Grove at Jones Park on Tuesday to clinch the top spot in the Home Talent Night League East Section.
“Actually, the pitcher is one of my buddy’s from Madison, we go to school together,” said Tabaska of Cottage Grove starter Al Dimmig. “So it was fun to compete against him. It’s even more fun to have some success. It was a great game: Our pitcher had his stuff going, Al had his stuff going.
“I had a hit in my first at-bat, so when I stepped into the box I knew he was going to throw a fastball first pitch because he couldn’t get the curveball over for a strike so I ripped it down the line.”
The inning opened with a walk by T.J. DiPrizio. From there Dan Dean and Owen Chady each hit singles to load the bases.
Then Tabaska struck.
“He shows up and gets timely hits for us, so it’s nice to have him on the team,” manager Sam Hartwick said.
The Generals added three insurance runs in the fifth inning when Dayne Sebranek and Dean each singled to left field and Chady reached on an infield single; each single brought in a run.
That’s all the Fort Atkinson cause would require because Paul, for the most part, stayed in rhythm and attacked hitters. He threw 57 pitches through the first three innings, but then settled in and only needed 45 more to finish out his second shutout of the season.
“I think he and (catcher) Cam (Wolter) must have talked about speeding things up and making hitters more uncomfortable to make them expand the zone more often,” Hartwick said. “He wasn’t getting people to chase early on and was throwing some non-competitive pitches, but in the fourth and fifth and sixth he found a groove and was challenging hitters.”
As easy as things were from the fourth inning on, Paul found trouble in the third inning when he threw 25 pitches to reach a three-inning total of 57 pitches. It started when he threw a four-pitch walk to the ninth batter in the Cottage Grove lineup. He appeared to induce a tailor made 6-3 double play ball, but shortstop Owen Chady misplayed the ball.
After a flyout to the warning track in left field, the return throw to the infield evaded third baseman Sebranek and put runners on second and third base. Paul forced a pop out to Chady for the second out.
That’s when things got weird.
A line drive off the bat of Donnie Bryant drilled base umpire, Paul retrieved the ball behind the mound after its ricocheted and he threw on to first to retire Bryant; or so he thought. The umpire ruled it was to be a single, and returned the runners to second and third.
But wait, there’s more: On the next pitch, Anthony Bortz hit a chopper between shortstop and third base. Sebranek took it and made the throw running toward center field. The base ump called Bortz safe ruling that Dean came off the base. That’s when Dean beseeched the base ump to appeal home for help. The home umpire ruled Dean maintained the base and no runs scored.
“I thought all hell was going to break loose,” Tabaska said. “We had all 11 of their guys screaming at the umpire, so that was interesting. The call went our way, so that was nice, but we played really sloppy that inning. We weren’t feeling too good after that inning and that we lucked out, but we came back and got it together and made some plays in the field and put the ball in play.”
Fort Atkinson will continue its Night League slate with a makeup game against Waterloo at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Waterloo. The Generals locked up the first seed in the East Section with the win and will host the first round of playoffs against a team yet to be determined.
“(Getting the top seed) is huge because if you don’t you could be traveling to Montello or Poynette,” Hartwick said. “That’s a big advantage because you don’t want to be driving an hour and a half or an hour and 15 minutes.”
FORT ATKINSON 5, COTTAGE GROVE 0
Firemen 000 000 0 — 0
Generals 000 230 x — 0
Pitching (ip-h-er-bb-so) — CG: Dimmig (L) 5-10-5-1-3, Strommen 1-0-0-0-3; FA: Paul (W) 7-5-0-2-5.
Leading hitters — CG: Kelsey 2x2, Schroeder-Gasser 2B. FA: Dean 2x3, Tabaska 2x3 (2B), Wolter 2x3 (2B), Chady 2x3.