MILROY - The focus wasn't quite there for the Wabasso baseball team on Wednesday as it resumed play of a previously-suspended game against Tracy-Milroy-Balaton in the bottom of the fourth inning. Luckily for the Rabbits, they found their focus when it mattered and escaped with a 4-3 come-from-behind win in 10 innings.
Last Tuesday, Wabasso (7-4 overall) trailed the Panthers (8-5) 2-1 when lightning forced play to be suspended right after the Rabbits' Caleb Salfer had started the bottom of the fourth with a base hit. Salfer assumed his position at first when play resumed Wednesday, but was soon picked off by TMB catcher Jon Swenson on a steal attempt.
The Wabasso players confused some signals from head coach Chad Olson while they were at the plate and on the base paths over the course of the next few innings. After squandering multiple opportunities to tie the ballgame, the Rabbits went into the bottom of the seventh down 3-1 in a game that seemed to be slipping away.
As his players came back to the dugout after recording the final out in the top of the seventh, Olson had a message for his team.
"You guys decide how this ends. It's that simple," Olson said.
The Rabbits decided they wanted to win.
Leadoff hitter Seth Guetter started things off with a double to right-center against TMB's Parker Lanoue, and Kenric Baune followed with a single that went over the shortstop's head. With left-hander Reed Salmon replacing Lanoue on the mound, Wabasso's Aaron Brau grounded into a potential double play, but after TMB got the force out at second, Brau beat out the throw to first as Guetter crossed home plate for a run.
Salmon got the next batter to fly out to center, which brought Caleb Salfer to the plate with two outs. Two innings earlier, Salfer grounded into a force play with two runners on and two outs. This time Salfer came through, driving a hit to left field that was misplayed by the TMB outfielder, which gave Brau enough time to beat the throw home and allowed Salfer to reach third base.
"I kind of changed my stance a bit, because before I popped up," Salfer said of his at-bat. "I just got my hands up and swung away and it came out to be right where I wanted to hit it."
The score remained tied at 3 over the next two-and-a-half innings before Wabasso capitalized on some miscues by the Panthers in the 10th to score the winning run. Wabasso's Scott Jenniges drew a one-out walk to give the Rabbits a baserunner, then Dan Klann got on after a fielding error by third baseman Taylor Hoffbeck. Wabasso No. 9 hitter, Neil Eichten, followed with a bunt and he reached base safely as Swenson slipped and fell while fielding the ball. Guetter ended the game by grounding to third, and Jenniges beat the throw home to give the Rabbits the 4-3 win.
TMB assistant coach Derek Flann said it was a tough way to end a game in which the Panthers had, for the most part, played well defensively.
"The catcher slipping on that bunt was just a freak thing," Flann said. "Taylor had a couple of miscues in that inning, too, and those are plays he'll make 95 to 98 percent of the time."
While Wabasso's offense was sputtering on Wednesday, it was junior pitcher Blake Altermatt who kept the Rabbits in the game. Altermatt took the ball to start the fifth, walking two batters, hitting a batter and striking out three Panthers in that inning alone. He had some control issues at times, finishing with six walks, but he ended four of the six innings he pitched with a strikeout and tallied a total of 10 strikeouts for the game.
"He's a little erratic at times and he's working on some things," Olson said of Altermatt. "It was a great effort from him though. When he got himself into trouble, most of the time he was able to get himself out of it. It was a great effort from him because he pretty much threw a complete game when he didn't expect it coming in."
The Panthers' lone hit against Altermatt was in the top of the seventh when Parker Lanoue knocked in Kody Kirsch with a single to center field after Kirsch had reached on a walk and stole second.
Altermatt said it was a bit strange starting Wednesday's action in the middle of a game, but he knew what the situation was and knew what he had to do to put his team in a position to win.
"They started out with the lead and I just didn't want to give them a bigger lead," Altermatt said. "I just wanted to try to get them to hit ground balls and try to strike out as many guys as I could, try to keep runners off the bases.
"Between every pitch I just kept telling myself, 'Keep the ball low in the zone, try not to overthrow and everything will work out.'"
The Panthers had three hits over the first three innings before play was suspended last Tuesday. On Wednesday, they made Altermatt throw plenty of pitches but just couldn't make much contact.
"Altermatt was throwing the ball by us early in the count," Flann said. "His curve wasn't the thing that was hurting us because he was struggling a bit with his control, but we couldn't catch up with his fastball.
"It's tough to pick up midway through the fourth inning and get into a flow. We just struggled to get going and were never really able to catch up to speed."
The Panthers will be back in Milroy for a game against Adrian on Saturday, while the Rabbits host unbeaten Sleepy Eye St. Mary's today in a Tomahawk Conference doubleheader.