MILROY - Losers of five straight games to end the regular season, the Milroy Yankees were starting to feel like they could do nothing right as their number of errors rose and their ability to come up with clutch hits disappeared.
With one swing of the bat by catcher Justin Schlemmer, the Yankees righted the ship and got back on course.
Down 1-0 to visiting Willmar in the first round of the Corn Belt League playoffs Wednesday, Schlemmer belted a two-run homer to left-center field in the bottom of the first inning and the Yankees used the momentum to roll past the Rails 11-1 in seven innings.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Milroy Yankees catcher Justin Schlemmer follows through after hitting a pitch in the bottom of the first inning of Wednesday’s Corn Belt League playoff game against the Willmar Rails in Milroy. Schlemmer had a two-run home run to left-center field during the at-bat.
The blast erased an early deficit, but more importantly, erased the bad vibes that had been haunting the team.
"We've been struggling this year scoring with two outs and it just felt good to get some runs and get the monkey off our back to get ahead in the game," Schlemmer said. "I just got a pitch over the plate and got my barrel on it finally. Hopefully it lifted the team up and got us going a little."
Milroy (10-6 overall), the third seed in the tournament, advances to face No. 2 seed Sacred Heart Friday at 8:45 p.m. in Sacred Heart.
Although their win came against a Willmar team that hadn't tasted victory since its season opener, the Yankees felt they were in need of some positive momentum to start their playoff run. They got it Wednesday in the form of 15 hits, just one error, and a complete-game pitching performance by Austin Deutz.
Deutz gave up just one run on three hits, but had his struggles with control at times and had to battle his way through a couple of jams during the game. One of those jams came in the third inning with one out when he hit two batters in a row, then walked the next batter to load the bases. But Deutz induced a grounder that led to a double play and the Yankees escaped with a 4-1 lead intact.
"He didn't really have command of much early," Schlemmer said. "I don't know if it was the heat or what, but he was just missing by a little bit and didn't have his 'A' game.
"Good pitchers work out of that stuff when they don't have their 'A' game and our defense turned a double play, and he threw strikes when he had to."
While Deutz got stronger as the game went on, Willmar starter Jordon Olson was unable to solve the Yankees' batting order and the Rails surrendered a run or more in six of the seven innings.
Schlemmer, a 19-year veteran, led the way at the plate for Milroy, going 3-for-5 with two runs scored and three RBIs.
"Whether it's for power or whether it's for average, it doesn't matter. The guy always battles and has good at-bats and he's a good guy to have on your side," Milroy manager Ryan Rohlik said of Schlemmer. "Everything he brings to the team is instrumental in what we do, whether it's behind the plate with his leadership there or at the plate, he just leads by example and he's done a heck of a job for us this year."
Josh Hadley also had a nice night for Milroy at the plate, going 2-for-2 with two runs scored and two walks. Christopher Eichten, Matt Bauer and Eric Dolan each added two hits, as well.
The Yankees now set their sights on Sacred Heart. The Saints and Yankees split their two games in the regular season, and Sacred Heart knocked Milroy out of the playoffs last year.
"It's an intense game every time we play Sacred," Rohlik said. "We're ready for them. We're ready to take them on, and I know they're going to be ready for us."
W100 000 0-1 3 3
MY220 113 2-11 15 1
W-Jordon Olson, Andrew Bangen (6); MY-Austin Deutz. WP-Deutz. LP-Olson. HR: MY-Justin Schlemmer. 2B: W-John Swatsky; MY-Milroy Yankees.