Lakeland Union High School entered its tournament on Saturday - in which all four teams wore pink and proceeds go to breast cancer treatment - having lost nine of its last 10 games on the diamond.
In those 10 games, the Thunderbirds scored more than two runs just three times and were shutout three times.
Finally, after being dormant for nearly three weeks, the offense rose from the dead for Lakeland, compiling 27 hits in two games to win its own tournament.
"We finally got some timely hitting, getting some guys going and hopefully that's a precursor to what's going to happen in the next week with the seeding meeting coming up on Wednesday," LUHS head coach Mike Wilhelm said. "We've got a big one with (Northland) Pines and if we beat Pines we may get a better seed than they do and possibly a home game."
Big fifth inning earns a win
Lakeland battled Chequamegon in the first game of the day and early on, it seemed like deja vu.
Chequamegon scored four runs in the second inning, but the T-Birds slowly chipped away before an offensive explosion ended the game in the blink of an eye.
After Caleb Menzia singled to lead off the bottom of the fourth, Gunnar Weitz launched a home run to left field in the next at-bat to cut the lead to 4-3.
In the fifth, the T-Birds erupted for 11 runs on 11 hits, invoking the mercy rule for a 14-4 win.
"We stressed all week with situational hitting," Wilhelm said. "The first couple innings it wasn't so good so we had to refocus and reevaluate our approaches at the plate and in the third, fourth, fifth innings we started getting better swings on some balls and getting some better balls to hit rather than chasing some curveballs and even some fastballs out of the zone."
Michael Campbell started the scoring with a fielder's choice RBI, while Austin Wanty had a 2-run double, Brandon Boh had an RBI single, Collin Quade had fielder's choice RBI and Jamie Slavinsky had an RBI single before Campbell stepped to the plate again with a 2-run dinger to left field.
In the championship game against Ashland - which beat Merrill in its first round game - Lakeland again hit the ball well, but scored runs in an opportunistic fashion to secure a 7-5 comeback win.
"That was situational stuff and stuff we were stressing all week - when to get the guy over and when to get the guy in - and one of those games where we finally put it into action," Wilhelm said. "It paid off and we really saw the benefits of better discipline at the plate."
After falling behind 1-0, Tate Olson scored on a wild pitch, before Campbell gave his team a 2-1 lead with an RBI single.
Ashland responded with three runs in the third to regain the lead thanks to some errant play in the field, but Lakeland tied the game after Keegan McJoynt doubled to lead off the fourth and later scored on a wild pitch. Menzia reached base on a dropped third strike and Parker Biertzer scored to tie it on the same play.
Campbell drove in a run on single to take the lead in the fifth before McJoynt scored on another wild pitch and Wanty drove in Weitz on a sacrifice fly in the sixth to add some insurance.
"Michael Campbell has been one of those guys that just finds a way to get on base," Wilhelm said. "He's a pretty fast runner and if he puts the ball on the ground he's got a shot to beat it out. Him getting on base in the nine-hole sets the table for Jamie and Gunnar and Caleb - even Parker, who's been maybe our most consistent hitter all year."
Campbell finished the day 3 for 6 with five RBIs, while Slavinsky was 5 for 6 and Olson was 3 for 5.
Lakeland's pitching staff also had a strong day. After Wanty pitched all five innings in the first game, Slavinsky pitched six and a third against Ashland, giving up four runs on 12 hits, before Weitz came in to earn the save on just five pitches.
"You can't ask for anything more," Wilhelm said. "The last few outings we've been able to rid our pitchers deep into games and that's something we've been working towards. We were kind of babying them through the first few starts early in the year with the expectation that at the end of the year we would be able to ride them deep into games. That's been the case."
Lakeland (5-10, 1-7 GNC) plays at Northland Pines this afternoon in a doubleheader, beginning at 3:30 p.m.
The T-Birds wrap up conference play on Thursday in the regular season home finale against Medford in a double-dip, starting at 4 p.m.
Nick Sabato may be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @NickSabatoLT.