If there was a reason the Brookfield Bulldogs didn't defend their last two Land O' Land O'Lakes Grand Championships it can probably be traced to defense and lack of clutch hitting.
The Bulldogs finished tied for third with a 12-6 record and lost in the second round of the Western Division playoffs. They beat the Brookfield Blue Sox in the first game but lost in the second round to Pewaukee, who ended up qualifying for the Grand Championship as the Western Division representative.
"It certainly was a year of highs and lows," Bulldogs manager Jason Booth said. "I'm proud of the effort and dedication the team put into this season. We had high expectations coming into this season and failed to meet our ultimate goal of winning a third straight title."
Booth was pleased with the team's pitching, which was as good as it's been over the past couple of years.
"But there were two things that kept us down," he said. "Our defense, traditionally the best in the league, let us down at times this season.
"Also, our hitting with runners in scoring position really suffered. It just didn't seem like we could get that clutch hit that busted a game open like we had in the previous two years.
"Certainly losing two games with 5-1 leads in the seventh inning was evident of that. We stranded way too many runners, which kept our opponents in the ball game."
Here is a quick look at some of the Bulldogs and Booth's comments on their season.
Scott Booth (.375 BA, 5 HR, 23 RBI): "Scott was on a mission in the offseason and set his goals high coming into the season. Needless to say, he met them all and then some. He continues to be one of the most feared power hitters in the league and his size and athleticism at first base makes life easy on our infielders. He also surprises many with his speed on the bases. When the team needs a lift emotionally, Scott always seems to get them pumped up."
Kris Franzen (.405 BA, 13 RBI): "Kris struggled early, but his confidence remained high and he went on an absolute tear the back half of the season, eventually competing for the batting title. He expects a lot from the team in terms of performance, which helps keep us hungry fighting for championships. Kris continues to be one of the best outfielders and most feared baserunners in the league."
Jeff Lueck (.389): "Jeff is not only one of the best leaders on the team, he's a fearless leader. He battled an ongoing shoulder injury all season long, but continued to be productive at the plate. The guys really respect him. He's been in the league 18 years and will eventually be inducted into the Land O'Lakes Hall of Fame."
Bill Gorman (.358, 12 RBI): "Bill was a major addition to the Bulldogs in the offseason, coming over from Butler. He lived up to all the expectations that were placed on him and played five different positions for us throughout the season, primarily playing third base and catcher."
Jason Rutz (.357, 12 RBI): "Jason continues to shine as the best shortstop in the league. As our leadoff hitter, he is a nightmare for opponents when he reaches base. He's a very smart baserunner and plays as hard as anyone you'll ever see."
Greg Basthemer (9-4, 3.06 ERA): "Greg has been in the league 11 years and pitched a personal-record 100 innings this season. He'll pound the strike zone and always keep hitters at a disadvantage by staying ahead in the count. He always has the mentality that he's better than any hitter he is facing, which is what you need out of your No. 1 starter."
Josh Lemke (3-1, 2 saves, 2.02 ERA): "Josh has great movement on all of his pitches, but his strikeout pitch is his changeup. Whether it's starting a game or coming out of the pen, I have the confidence that Josh is going to throw strikes and keep the team in a position to win. I love his confidence and hunger for to win that keeps him successful on the field. His track record certainly backs that up."
Booth is looking forward to 2014 already.
"I have no doubt the guys will return as hungry and as motivated as ever," he said. "There's nothing like finishing a season on top of the world as Grand Champions.
"We certainly have all the pieces and talent in place and the team continues to have great chemistry. We'll be ready come April."
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