WAUSAU, WI. – The Madison Mallards scored five unearned runs in the sixth inning to bust open a 1-1 tie and rolled to an 8-1 victory over the Wisconsin Woodchucks in Game 1 of the Northwoods League South Division playoff series Sunday at Athletic Park.
“It kind of deflated things a little bit,” Wisconsin shortstop Ben Zobrist said. “You hope it doesn’t get you down too much and that you can keep coming back, and hopefully just chip away.
“You have to hand it to them, they really got us down after that point. Hopefully, tomorrow we can bounce back.”
The Woodchucks now face a must-win situation tonight when they travel to Madison’s Warner Park for Game 2. Game time is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Game 3, if necessary, would be Tuesday at Athletic Park at 7:05 p.m.
All five of the Mallards’ runs in the sixth inning came with two outs.
“Hitting is contagious, one guys gets a hit then another guy gets a hit,” said Madison shortstop Mike Rozema, who went 2 for 5 with three runs batted in. “We capitalized on a couple of mistakes. I felt much better after we got a five-run lead.”
Madison pitcher Brian Kroll didn’t need any more support as he shut down the Woodchucks, retiring the final 16 batters in order.
“Brian was unbelievable,” Madison manager Darrell Handelsman said. “He picked us up huge. I think he locates his fastball and he doesn’t give in. He is a junior, so he has pitched in big games before.
“He has got nuts or moxie or whatever you want to say. He knows how to pitch. He threw his slider and he didn’t back away when he couldn’t throw it for a strike early. He kept going after it and going after it.”
Sunday was Kroll’s second brilliant outing against the Woodchucks. He threw a one-hitter against Wisconsin on July 20.
“I just keep throwing strikes,” Kroll said. “Those guys are an outstanding hitting team, so I try to keep them off balance. It didn’t work the first couple of innings, then I finally got my groove and started throwing everything for strikes.”
Wisconsin got to Kroll early, as Zobrist started the first inning with a double to right-center field and Drew Saylor followed with an RBI single. But that was the Woodchucks’ only serious threat.
“I just started to focus,” Kroll said. “I think I was trying too hard in the first inning, trying to get that strikeout. Then I settled down and made them hit the ball and put it in play.”
Kroll finished with one strikeout and one walk in the complete-game effort.
“Brian took the bull by the horns,” Handelsman said. “After the third inning, he kept getting stronger. Once he gets into a good rhythm, he is hard to beat. He has been our most consistent guy down the stretch.”
Wisconsin tried to get something going in the fourth after Ned Yost Jr. singled to lead off the inning. Yost tried to steal second, but Pete Wiedewitsch lined out to the shortstop, who flipped to first to double up Yost.
The Woodchucks now have to head to Madison’s Warner Park, the stadium with the largest average attendance in the league. The Mallards averaged 4,411 fans a game this season.
“They come here and win so we have to go there and win to bring it back here, and hopefully win,” Yost said. “This game is in the past. We didn’t do what we wanted to do today. Tomorrow is a new day.”
Rozema said the Mallards did exactly what they needed to do Sunday.
“We just wanted to come up here and get a win,” Rozema said. “We didn’t play that well in the second half. It was good to win this first game and then we go home and hopefully we get it done tomorrow.”