Baseball: Neuqua Valley 'did all we could' in loss to St. Laurence
It was going to take a special team to end Neuqua Valley's baseball season with just its second loss.
The Wildcats ran into that team on Monday.
Their magical run came to a disappointing close with a 5-1 loss to St. Laurence in the Class 4A Standard Bank Stadium supersectional in Crestwood.
With the score knotted at 1-1 and pitchers James Kulak and Angel Sandoval locked in a duel, the Vikings (35-5) broke through for 4 runs off Kulak in the top of the sixth. After getting a double play to end the bottom of the sixth, Sandoval pitched a 1-2-3 seventh to send St. Laurence to the state semifinals for the first time since 1993.
"This means the world," said Sandoval, who needed only 60 pitches for the complete-game win. "We're on a mission to get that state championship."
Kulak, who struck out eight in 6⅓ innings for Neuqua Valley (35-2), retired 12 straight heading into the sixth inning, but a leadoff hit batter started the Vikings' pivotal inning. Matt McCormick's 2-run triple broke the tie, an error added a run and Gage Olszak's RBI double made it 5-1.
The Wildcats scored in bunches all season, but they couldn't break through despite several hard-hit balls.
"It's just how it goes," said Wildcats senior shortstop James Gargano. "It's baseball. You hit balls right at people, and that's what happens. It's not the way we wanted it to end, but we did all we could."
St. Laurence opened the scoring in the top of the first when Jimmy Burnette singled home a run. The Wildcats tied it in the second inning on Eric Nelson's RBI single that scored Evan Ranneklev, who led off with a double.
After that it looked like Kulak and Sandoval might be locked in a 1-1 tie deep into extra innings. The Vikings, though, silenced that thought in the sixth.
"A lot of great memories," said Kulak, a junior. "It's unfortunate how it ended today but still a great season."
With a state title in 2007, a third-place finish in 2008 and a fourth-place finish in 2013, Neuqua Valley has some pretty big hardware in its trophy case. But only one team -- the title team -- ever won 35 games, and no other Wildcats team finished with two losses or fewer.
The season ended earlier than they would have liked, but these Wildcats will be remembered.
"I told them '98 percent of the high school kids in the state don't get to do what you did,'" said Neuqua Valley coach Robin Renner. "But when you're that close I can understand the disappointment and frustration. But I am certainly proud of them. Whether they won it or lost it, it doesn't sway how I feel about them."
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