Madison, WI – August 10, 2009. It was a wild finish to the 2009 season at the “Duck Pond” on Monday night. The Mallards salvaged a series split in the season finale with a 9-7 win over Green Bay in front of a season-high and fourth-best record crowd of 7,494.
Harold Riggins (NC State) set the Mallards career home run record while two other records were threatened, but not broken.
“It was a good game to send the fans home with,” Manager C.J. Thieleke said. “I challenged the gys to play out the schedule and we were able to get everyone in there too.”
Madison pitchers came through with solid performances and not just on the mound. Thieleke got everyone on the roster into the game and the strategy translated into a win.
“This group has a lot of versatility and athleticism,” Thieleke said. Guys like Brad Allen (Elgin CC) and Alex Rivers (Santa Clara) were slotted into the game on the left side of the infield while Jordan Hersheiser (USC) played some at first base and Cody Winiarski (Virginia) and Matt Jansen (Purdue) shared time in right field.
Defense wasn’t the key in this win for the Mallards, though, offense was; to the tune of nine runs on 13 hits, five of which went for extra bases.
Green Bay struck first, getting to Madison right-hander, Nick Rice (MATC) early on. The Bullfrogs scored two runs in the second inning after Kyle Robinson (Indian River State) reached base following an error on the Mallard second baseman and Riley Henricks’ (Portland) triple to the right center field gap to drive him in. An RBI groundout by Nick O’Shea (Minnesota tallied allowed the second run to score.
The Mallards nearly responded in their half of the inning by loading the bases on a walk and a pair of singles by Riggins and Jacob Esch (Georgia Tech), but Jolly was able to get the hot-hitting Jimmy Parque (St. John’s) to ground out to second to preserve the lead.
Down 4-0 in the fourth, the Mallards drew close, scoring three runs on four hits. Starting it off was the Madison designated hitter, Riggins, who deposited a first pitch fastball over the wall in left for his ninth home run of the season. He becomes the team’s all-time leader in career home runs and he did it in only his first season as a Mallard. Luke Stewart, who attended the same high school as Riggins, Normal Community in Bloomington, Ill., was the previous record holder with eight home runs last season.
It Riggins’ first home run in nearly a month. His eighth dinger came in a 7-4 win over Alexandria on July 11 at the “Duck Pond”.
“It feels pretty good,” Riggins said of setting the new franchise mark. “I went into a bad slump for three or four weeks and it was frustrating. It was good to get that ball up and out.”
The Mallards added two more runs on a pair of RBI singles by Troy Channing (St. Mary’s) and Esch to cut the deficit to 4-3. And then in the fifth, Channing came through again with a two-run single up the middle, making it 5-4, Mallards. Later in the inning, an Esch RBI double coupled with a throwing error on the Green Bay left fielder led to two more runs, giving Madison a 7-4 advantage.
Sun Prairie native Garrett Granitz (Azusa Pacific) threw a scoreless seventh in relief, but Ross Hellenbrand (Winona State) got the win with two scoreless innings, surrendering just one hit to Green Bay.
After the Bullfrogs scored two in their half of the eighth to cut it to 7-6, the Mallards responded with a two-run home run by catcher John Hicks (Virginia) to stretch the lead back to three runs at 9-6. J.R. Graham (Santa Clara) gave up a run in the ninth, but still picked up his third save of the year.
Madison closes out the season with a 38-29 overall record with a 19-14 mark in the second half.
“It was an exciting offensive summer, that’s for sure,” Thieleke said. “We had some outstanding individual performances.”
Kurtis Muller (Iowa) was honored as the team’s Most Valuable Player prior to Monday’s game and was on a short list of potential league MVP’s. However, that top honor went to Rochester’s Corey Jones (Cal State Fullerton). In addition to setting the franchise home run record, Riggins also tied the team record for RBI in a season with 48. Winiarski had a standout summer on the mound, as did Jansen.
“You can’t take days off if you want to be good,” Riggins said of what he’ll take away from the experience of a 68-game schedule. “I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.”
For Thieleke, his focus now turns to a different sport; football.
“Right now, I’m looking forward to football season,” Thieleke said as he reflected on the long season as well. “I’ll take a few weeks off and then it’s time to get ready for fall ball.”