After midseason wilt, East baseball team bloomed again in tourney
Spartans needed just one more win from another state appearance
All the goals were still in place, as a return trip to the state tournament was still being highly thought of. After all, the Brookfield East baseball team was having a very strong start to its season and sat at 11-4 after 15 games.
But then shortstop/pitcher and eventual team MVP Pat O'Brien got hurt and the wheels started to fall off for the Spartans as they fell into a deep slump that included six losses in a row toward the end of the regular season.
Nevertheless, the Spartans found character and heart and wound up winning four of their last five games, including a spirited victory over the top WIAA sectional seed and Classic 8 Conference co-champion Kettle Moraine in sectional semifinal play.
Only a frustrating 4-3 loss to the other Classic 8 co-champ, Waukesha West, in the sectional final prevented a second consecutive state tournament trip.
"After the second half we had, a lot of teams could have rolled over and died," said Spartans coach Bill Woodring. "But we made that run at the end of the year and we showed how much character we had. They showed a lot of guts, because we did lose a lot of close games this year."
Woodring noted that one of the senior leaders, Tom Tushaus, pointed the way when the slump was at its worst.
"He said, 'All this doesn't matter. The tournament series is what matters,' " Woodring said. "We learned from that and finished strong."
The overall final mark of 17-15 doesn't reveal how well the team did play at the very end, Woodring said. There was the five-inning no-hitter by Ryan Rouse over Waukesha North in the regional semifinal and the sound 6-2 win over a good Sussex Hamilton squad in the regional final.
"It was all a matter of growth," said Woodring, "because at the start of the year, we had a lot of good pieces in place. We had some questions, yes. We didn't have a lot of pitching experience, but we still thought we'd be OK there and we were. We needed replacements in a few spots, but we thought we'd be OK overall.
"17-15 doesn't sound really good overall but it was where we probably should have been in the end."
O'Brien, who still earned first-team All-Greater Metro Conference honors despite missing a lot of the second half of the season, had to work with a cracked vertebrae. He could play some but not pitch again after that point.
"He was the guy we went to at the end of games," said Woodring of O'Brien's value, "and there were certain teams against which I would have pitched only him."
But in those final four games, Woodring said O'Brien hit .583.
O'Brien and outfielder Brandt Rogers were the co-captains and were among many seniors for the Spartans.
They included Tushaus, Andy Wiesen, Jack Snow, second-team all-conference outfielder Drew Kehoe, Alex White and Tom Barrock.
Woodring said the freshmen and junior varsity teams were competitive and had talent and noted that about five starters will return next season.
"It was fun at the end," Woodring said. "We wilted, but we never died."
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