For the first time in the program's short history, the Verona Wildcats lifted a district baseball championship plaque last Wednesday after rolling to a 12-2 victory over Exeter.
The win capped off a historic season for the Wildcats -- who had won only a dozen or so games combined before this year -- and saw that the team's 13-3 overall regular season record didn't go to waste.
As in most of the Wildcats' games this season, the team got off to a hot start, scoring a pair of runs in the first inning as Caleb Hillhouse led off with a double, later scoring on a balk, and Kolton Pinkly singled home another runner.
Exeter would come back with two runs in the top of the third inning, but the tie would not last long, as Verona roared back for five runs in the bottom of the frame.
Hillhouse led off the inning with a single and advanced on an error off the bat of Alex Campbell and a single by Kelson Guenther. All three advanced then as Seth Freiburger drew a walk to drive in the go-ahead run. Back to back doubles by Pinkly and Austin Valdez then pushed the Verona lead to 7-2.
Pinkly would add another RBI single in the fourth, following a two-run triple by Guenther. And a run in each the fifth and sixth innings gave the Wildcats the 10-run lead to end the game on the mercy rule.
All the while, Pinkly was consistently solid on the mound, throwing five and two-thirds innings, striking out 13 batters and allowing just two hits for the victory. Hillhouse recorded a strikeout for the final out of the sixth against his only batter.
Hillhouse and Valdez finished with three hits each, while Guenther, Freiburger and Pinkly recorded two apiece. Freiburger led the RBI column with four on the day, while Pinkly drove in three and Valdez two. Guenther scored four times, followed by two runs each by Hillhouse, Campbell and Freiburger. In total, the Wildcats racked up 14 hits on the day.
The historic district championship placed the Wildcats in the state sectional round on Monday, against Walnut Grove at home. The game went on in spite of weather delays, and after a back and forth contest, the Wildcats came out on the losing side of a 6-4 contest.
Hillhouse retired the first three batters of the game on strikeouts before becoming the game's first baserunner on a walk in the bottom half of the first. Three batters later, he would score the opening run on a two-out double by Freiburger.
Walnut Grove pushed across three runs in the top of the second to take a 3-1 lead, but Verona answered with another run in the bottom to keep it close.
The Tigers then added a fourth run in the top of the third to push the lead back to two. Neither team scored in the fourth, however, and Hillhouse sat the visitors down in order in the fifth to give the Wildcats some momentum.
A pair of errors and a hit batsman in the bottom of the inning gave the Wildcats the bases loaded with no outs. After a popup, two more Tiger errors allowed runs to score, tying the game at four with two innings to play.
With the bases loaded in the top of the sixth, Walnut Grove scored the go-ahead run on a passed ball and another on a dropped third strike to take a 6-4 lead. Verona would put runners on base in both the sixth and seventh innings, but it would not be enough to keep the Wildcats' historic season alive.
Freiburger, Pinkly and Valdez finished the game with a hit each, as the Verona bats were kept in check for one of few times over the course of the season. Hillhouse took the loss, allowing six runs (one earned) and four hits over five innings and striking out nine.
Verona ended its record-setting season with an overall record of 14-4, a district championship, and an impressive 15.4 runs per game under coaches Fred Lundien and Ethan Moffitt.