POSTSEASON AMATEUR BASEBALL:Â MAD FROGS ADVANCE
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
Win when it matters.
That’s the old sports adage that the amateur baseball team from Menno is wearing on their collective jersey sleeves — figurately, of course — following a memorable District 6B tournament in Crofton late last month. After losing their first 11 games of the regular season and going into the playoffs with just a single victory, the Mad Frogs won two of three in Crofton to punch their ticket to the State Amateur Baseball Tournament in Mitchell.
Menno will face Northville in the opening round of the 32-team, single-elimination tournament Friday, Aug. 4 at 1 p.m. Northville is a tiny town in Spink County located about a half-an-hour south of Aberdeen.
“It doesn’t matter how you start; everybody’s 0-0 going into districts and you just battle,” said Macon Oplinger after throwing five shutout innings of relief in his team’s 5-3 state-qualifying win over Wynot, Neb., last Thursday. “You do what it takes to get it done.”
“Nobody expected us to be here — not a great record this season — but we always compete when it matters,” said Dylan Lehr, a longtime baseballer who this year stepped into another role as team manager after Ryan Liebl hung up his cleats. “Our defense was outstanding all tournament and our lineup finally started clicking. When we do that, we’re a good team.”
This is the second year in a row that Menno went into the league tournament as the lowest seed and came out as one of four South Central League representatives at state.
District 6 play
Menno found postseason momentum quickly in its first-round battle with Freeman — a longtime rival that Oplinger says is always a fun team to beat.
“That never hurts,” he said.
The Mad Frogs’ bats were hot early on against the Blacksox as they strung together 10 runs in the first four innings to build a 10-4 lead midway through the contest. While Freeman battled back with two in the sixth and three in the seventh to make it 10-9, Menno responded with three more of their own in the eighth and another in the ninth to stave off the Blacksox comeback attempt and hang on to a 14-11 win.
Lehr and Oplinger were both 3-for-5 and teamed up for 3 RBI and 3 runs scored between them, and Austin Pillsbury led the team with 5 RBI on a pair of hits.
Doug Hall and Jamison Kleinsasser took care of the pitching duties.
Menno’s win over Freeman put them in a semifinal matchup with No. 2 Tabor on Sunday, July 23 for a spot in the district championship, but the Bluebirds were too tough, winning 10-5 and sending the Mad Frogs into last Thursday’s elimination game against Wynot — which ended up being a beauty.
Despite giving up three runs to the Expos in the first inning, Menno got a good start from Hall, the veteran hurler who held Wynot in check in the second, third and fourth innings before yielding to Oplinger, who then did the same.
“Wynot is a heck of a baseball team; they can hit the ball all over the place,” said Oplinger. “Doug started off the game really well. To let them score three in the first and then shut them down after that — that is very tough to do against Wynot. It came down to defense after that.”
And some timely hitting.
After scoring two of their own in the first inning on RBI singles by Spencer Schultz and Tate Gale, the Frogs tied the game in the sixth, took the lead in the eighth on a Dustin Livingston double, and then added an insurance run in the ninth when Oplinger scored on a fielder’s choice RBI by Ajay Herrboldt.
One clean bottom of the ninth later from Oplinger, Menno’s win was sealed.
After the game, Oplinger noted the 90-plus degree heat of the evening, his focus on the mound and his teammates behind him.
“I was feeling really hot, but that’s where the fundamentals have to come in,” he said when asked how he felt on the hill. “You’ve got to hit your spots, which I felt like I did tonight, and we got the outs that we needed.”
Two of those came on back-to-back plays late in the game by Herrboldt in right field, who picked off a runner on first after catching a fly ball for an out before making a spectacular diving catch to get Menno out of the inning.
“It’s huge seeing that defensive effort because you know you can trust the guys that are behind you, and all you’ve got to do is spot up and throw strikes,” Oplinger said. “That’s huge.”
“Now we’ve got another fresh slate going into state,” said Lehr. “Our guys are fired up and will be ready to go. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re swinging well, we’re playing defense well and keeping errors to a minimum — it’s a new season and we want to keep rolling.”