Southwest Wisconsin baseball fans are guaranteed a team in the WIAA Division 4 state championship game Thursday afternoon with two area teams facing off in Wednesday’s state semifinal.
Mineral Point (26-0) will take on Belmont (17-8) on Wednesday morning at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton. The game will begin approximately 30 minutes following the conclusion of the 8 a.m. game between Athens (18-4) and Webster (28-0).
The Pointers are making a return trip after falling in last year’s state semifinals. This marks Belmont’s first trip to state in program history and comes just days after the softball team brought home its second state title.
“Our guys have really fed off the girls’ success,” Belmont coach Trevor Kattre said. “We have shared our facilities with them all spring with the rainy weather we had, and the two teams just constantly support one another.”
After getting off to a slow start in the regular season, the Braves finished tied for second place in the Six Rivers West Conference with Highland, whom they defeated in the regional final, 10-5.
“We have a young team with just two seniors, but we got hot at the right time,” Kattre said. “We played a tough schedule with ranked Pecatonica and Shullsburg/Benton in our conference, and I think that really helped us down the stretch. Our goal was to win a regional championship. If we could get past Highland, the road was set for us and our guys believed they could do it.”
The Braves defeated De Soto, 6-2, and Bangor, 14-1, to earn its first-ever trip to the state tournament.
“Belmont’s boys programs haven’t had the most success in recent years, so I hope this helps them realize they can do big things,” Kattre said.
Helping lead the way with the Braves postseason success are seniors Colin Austin (.446, 33 hits, 5 doubles, 1 triple, 4 home runs, 17 RBI) and Ethan James (.301, 22 hits, 6 doubles, 3 home runs, 16 RBI), and sophomore Riley Christensen (.420, 34 hits, 10 doubles, 2 home runs, 24 RBI).
“Colin had been batting third, but we moved him to leadoff to get him more at bats,” Kattre said. “His bat has been huge for us.”
Defensively, James (4-3, 1.35 ERA) has been the team’s ace all season.
“He’s been lights out throughout the tournament,” Kattre said. “He’s hitting his spots and he’s just been our go-to guy.”
Christensen, who catches and pitches, has been clutch on both offense and defense.
“I believe Riley is one of the best catchers in the state,” Kattre said. “He’s got a great arm and can pick guys off at any base. He’s also been getting it done with his bat with some key hits.”
With just one senior on last year’s team, the second-ranked Pointers are back with some unfinished business to attend to. Mineral Point was knocked out of the tournament with a 4-0 loss to St. Mary’s Catholic in the Division 3 state semifinal.
“These guys have really been eager to get back to Appleton,” Mineral Point coach Jordan Tibbits said. “They have worked extremely hard the past couple weeks, and they are hungry.”
The Pointers defeated Pecatonica in the regional final, 11-2, before earning the trip to state with sectional wins over Deerfield and Living Word Lutheran.
“We played in an extremely tough regional,” Tibbits said. “Southwest Wisconsin has been well represented this spring, and it shows by having two teams reach the state semifinals.”
The Pointers are led by junior pitcher Grady Gorgen (8-0, 1.05 ERA, .465, 33 hits, 20 RBI) and sophomore pitcher Liam Stumpf (5-0, 1.29 ERA, .461, 35 hits, 11 HRs, 41 RBI).
“Grady is pitching the best he’s pitched all year, and Liam continues to throw strikes and get the job done,” Tibbits said. “The two of them have been huge parts of taking this program back to state.”
With both teams earning No. 1 seeds in the tournament, they were able to schedule a game against each other on the opening day of regional play. Mineral Point won, 4-0.
“We won, 4-0, and we were able to see some things that we needed to work on,” Tibbits said. “It should be a great game and a great experience for both communities.”
Added Kattre: “We were able to get guys on base, but we just couldn’t get that big hit against them. Hopefully our bats continue to stay hot. They are such a good team and we are excited for the opportunity to get another shot at them.”