All photos of South Division Wild Card Game available on Flickr.
For the first time since 2012, a representative of southern Wisconsin will not be in the Summer Collegiate World Series. Kenosha struggled through a pretty rough season this year with not a lot of players returning from their 2015 title year, and Lakeshore and Madison were both ousted from the playoffs on the first day. With the new playoff format, now in its second year, the number of playoffs in the ever-expanding league has doubled to eight. To accommodate these additional teams without dragging the playoffs on an extra week, there are now back-to-back winner-take-all games to start the playoffs followed by a best of 3 championship series. Much like the MLB format, it's certainly exciting to see more teams have a chance to make it, but it makes it hard on any fan who might want to see their team. There's no guarantee that any playoff participant will have a home game, let alone make it past the first day of the playoffs. And very often fans will not even know if or where their team is playing until late the night before, which means that even at a place like Madison that tops the Summer Collegiate attendance charts year after year, the stadium is half empty. It even took an impromptu bobblehead giveaway to get fans to come out to the Duck Pond this year for their Wild Card matchup against the Battle Creek Bombers, and of course I made the drive out for it.
This was my first trip back to Warner Park since the playoffs last year, and for the first time in several years, nothing much has seemed to change. The picnic area in the left field corner seems to have been spruced up a little bit, but I tried to go up there and the only way to access it was by going up a steep mound covered in used football field astroturf, which seemed incredibly weird and dangerous. Some of the vendors have spruced up their branding, and as usual there were some new exciting things on the menu. I ate a salmon burger from the BBQ stand and it was delicious. I got my customary Great Dane Crop Circle Wheat that I always miss when away from Madison, and I was still disappointed to see that the souvenir beer cups had not returned. I walked to my seat in the first row of the 200 level for a couple of innings, but as I mentioned, the stadium was uncharacteristically empty, so I made my way down to the 5th row for most of the game.
The game pitted Madison's Heath Renz against Battle Creek's Cody Puckett. Renz had an outstanding season for Mallards, holding his ERA under 2.00 in 9 starts. However he did not perform well on the big stage, giving up 6 runs over just 3 innings. He got through the first two innings with relative eased, but then was schlacked for 6 runs in an inning plus, including a 3-run homerun by the Bombers' centerfielder. The Bombers continued to pull away with runs in the 4th, 5th, and 6th, but Mallards LF Josh Stowers was on a mission to take the team on his shoulders and almost singlehandedly win the game. He was 4-4 on the night with 2 towering homeruns and 6 RBI. You would never know by the power display that he only had 3 homeruns on the entire season before tonight. A couple of more runs late were not enough to catch Battle Creek, however, as they lost by a final score of 9-8.
Note to Madison area Culvers: if you are going to give out promotional coupons for free custard every time the Mallards score 5 runs, you need to have your restaurant a block from the stadium remain open after the game.
STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 08.19:
Brewers 52-68, -25.0, -12.0 WC (3 @ Mariners, 3 v. Rockies)
Reds 51-69, -26.0, -13.5 WC (4 v. Dodgers, 2 v. Rangers)
Twins 49-72, -21.0, -13.0 WC (3 @ Royals, 3 v. Tigers)
2016 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 12 (+23 worked)
Peter - 28