Brookfield Central entered the season with virtually no expectations, losing the previous season in the first round of the playoffs.
“Going into the year, no one thought we were going to be this good," Michael Hinz said. "We weren’t ranked or anything.”
The Lancers proved a few skeptics wrong Monday, outlasting Franklin, 3-2. Franklin’s loss was not due to a lack of opportunities.
The Sabers, down 3-1, had the tying run on second with nobody out in the seventh inning following Brookfield Central’s third error in a nine-batter stretch.
Only needing a fairly deep single to tie the game, Franklin instead hit into its final three outs at second base, with a pop-out, RBI ground out and sharp lineout.
“We had our shot,” longtime Franklin coach Hughes said. “We just didn’t get the key hit.”
Cautious baserunning did not help the Sabers cause. Brookfield Central catcher M.J. Houdek missed a ball with nobody out that dribbled to the backstop, and he couldn't locate the ball, forcing Hinz to run from the mound to grab the ball. That theoretically left enough time for Hansen to score from third and Caleb Willert to advance as the tying run up to third base. But both runners stayed put.
“I was expecting it to be at somewhere up front, and it wasn’t and it got to the backstop,” Houdek said. “Thankfully, it didn’t hurt us at all.”
Even knowing how things played out, Hughes had no regrets on the basepaths.
“You don’t send the guy with nobody out,” Hughes said. “That’s not how you play the game.
“As it turned out, we would’ve gotten that run,” Hughes elaborated. “But you can’t bank on that.”
Excellent starting pitching and a few well-timed hits put Brookfield Central in the position to withstand Franklin's last-second comeback attempt.
Hinz pitched 6 1/3 innings while surrendering only one earned run and two hits.
“What a competitor,” Brookfield Central coach Jeff Bigler said. “I know he would want to have that seventh inning back, but what he did through six innings was just unbelievable.”
Hinz’s battery mate echoed Bigler’s sentiment.
“He did a great job mixing speeds and a great job keeping the ball low,” Houdek said. “You can’t ask for more of a starting pitcher than that.”
Hinz deflected credit to Houdek and other teammates.
“He always calms me down when I’m tough,” Hinz said. “Everything was going right, and my defense played really well behind me.”
Adam Baade closed the door with the final two outs.
“Adam Baade’s a stud,” Hinz said. “He’s finished off one of my games before when I pitched 6 2/3 against East. He did it again today.”
Offensively, Houdek provided the key hit in the sixth inning, a double to score teammate Jonathan Osman.
“I knew I had to get a pitch to hit and try to get that run in,” Houdek said. “I battled, and he gave it to me, and I was able to square it up.”
Houdek’s courtesy runner, Mike Panos, scored the team’s third run of the game on a Nick Leszczynski double the following at-bat, the difference-maker in a one-run game.
“We took a lot of great two-strike approaches, using the right side of the diamond,” Bigler said. “Those runs were absolutely mammoth.”
The team’s earlier run came in the second inning on an RBI groundout by Sal Gambatese.
“Gambatese knew the infield was back and was trying to hit something hard up the middle,” Bigler said. “Getting that first run on the board was huge in a low-scoring game with the wind blowing in.”
Franklin has now lost four of its last five games, enough to push the Sabers back to 9-5 in the Greater Metro standings, which Hughes attributes to poor hitting.
“We’re just not hitting,” Hughes said. “And we haven’t been hitting for the last few games. That’s been our issue.”
Brookfield Central improved to 10-5 with the win over the Greater Metro mainstay.
“We knew, to stay in the upper division, we’re going to have to beat the upper teams,” Bigler said. “It was a great win for us.”
Hinz doesn't have to be concerned about the rankings now.
“It tells everyone that we’re a serious team.”