Warhawks eye WIAC title

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Junior pitcher Riley Tincher has been almost perfect this season, posting a 9-0 record and a 3.78 ERA. He also leads the conference in innings pitched and wins. Photo by Joy Kowald.

All one could hear were the flags blowing in the wind.

Silence filled the air.

One would have thought the baseball team was in last place from the somber tone in the players’ voices after letting the series finale against UW-Stevens Point slip away Monday evening.

The 15-9 loss was a disappointment for a team that entered last week as the No. 1-ranked team in the American Baseball Coaches Association poll.

“We were better then them today except for the end and that’s frustrating,” head coach John Vodenlich said after watching his team lose a 5-2 lead entering the eighth inning.

Nonetheless, the Warhawks are still in perfect shape to win their ninth conference championship in 11 years as it enters the final week of the WIAC regular season.

“We’re upset right now, but we’ll move forward,” senior centerfielder Jordan Stine said. “We’re not happy, but we control our own destiny.”

The ’Hawks (27-4, 15-3 WIAC) enter today’s home doubleheader against UW-Oshkosh two games up on UW-Stevens Point (22-9, 11-5) in the loss column.

However, the ’Hawks had an opportunity to increase that margin even further had its pitching not         gone extinct in the final 1 1/3 innings Monday.

After junior pitcher Jeff Donovan forced the Pointers into two quick outs in the eighth inning, it appeared the ’Hawks might win three of four in the series.

UW-Stevens Point, on the other hand, had ideas of its own.

The Pointers scored 13 runs over the course of the eighth and ninth innings.

During one stretch in the ninth inning, the Pointers recorded seven straight RBI while none of the six pitchers Vodenlich summoned could find an answer.

“We’re better than that,” Vodenlich said. “We’re just down right better than that. Our pitching staff is responsible for most of our 27 wins, but they also collectively could have finished that game. It’s not acceptable to give up 15 runs.

“If I didn’t think we had talent on the staff, we would be happy with the split. But we’re a lot better than what we showed today.”

This letdown was after the ’Hawks won Monday’s opener, 8-1, while roughing up the Pointers’ junior ace Scott Williams.

When reflecting on the series split, Vodenlich was left unsatisfied.

“We won 16 innings today,” Vodenlich said. “[We] can’t feel good about winning 16 and not winning the last two.”

Senior shortstop Mike Kenseth, who is hitting .375 on the season, said he feels the same way as his head coach.

“We knew we should have had that game,” Kenseth said. “We didn’t come in here wanting to split with them, but we’re not going to dwell on it, because we know if we still play good baseball we’re going to finish out on top in the conference this year.”

Following their series against UW-Oshkosh, a team that shared the WIAC regular season title with UW-Whitewater last year, the ’Hawks have a six-hour drive to UW-Superior for a four-game series.

That series marks the end of the conference portion of the regular season. Kenseth said he would like nothing more than to leave it with a WIAC title in hand.

“We definitely are confident,” Kenseth said. “That’s our first goal we’re trying to accomplish.”

Vodenlich added he hopes the team can turn its attention on the next two series.

“I don’t think we’re playing as good as we’re capable of,” he said. “But I think what we have going for us is we are confident.”

Baldwin returns

Baseball player turned professional poker player Eric Baldwin, will throw out the first pitch at Wednesday’s game against UW-Oshkosh at Prucha Field.

The doubleheader is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Baldwin, who last played with UW-Whitewater during the team’s  2005 national championship run, donated $200,000 to have new lights installed at the newly renovated James B. Miller Stadium.

He has won close to $4 million on the World Poker Tour and just won $1,034,715 after taking second place in a poker tournament at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

“It’s going to be great to see him,” Vodenlich said. “ ‘Baldy’ is a class act. He’s been close to the program ever since he left. It will be nice to have him back.”