Hitting it big! ’Cats claim regional crown with thrilling 5-4 win

Florence third baseman Bryce Leffler (left) fires a throw across the diamond at Red Johnson Field for an out during the WIAA Division 4 Regional title game versus the Newman Catholic Fighting Cardinals on Wednesday. The championship clash provided plenty of thrills, with the host Bobcats battling their way to a 5-4 walk-off victory. (Dennis Mansfield/Daily News photo)

FLORENCE, Wis. — The Florence Bobcats were able to claw by Newman Catholic for the WIAA Division 4 Regional championship with a walk-off 5-4 victory in front of their home fans on Wednesday afternoon.

It was an epic battle between the two baseball teams, with each team having chances to win the regional battle played on Red Johnson Field at Florence High School. But it would be the Bobcats who would claim their first regional championship since 2000.

“It was a great baseball game, back and forth from beginning to end,” said Florence coach Kris Johnson. “Very proud of our guys’ resilience and energy throughout the game.”

The host Bobcats scored a run in each of the first three innings for a 3-2 lead, a lead they held until the top of the sixth. That’s when the game started to take a series of dramatic twists and turns.

The Fighting Cardinals pushed across a pair of runs in the top of the sixth to recaptured the advantage 4-3. Florence wasn’t about to let the visitors walk off with the regional trophy, scoring a run to knot the score at 4-all.

Florence’s Evan Johnson (13) raises the regional championship trophy while celebrating with some of his teammates after the Bobcats’ 5-4 win over Newman Catholic on Wednesday. The Bobcats next travel to Athens to take on the host BlueJays in the WIAA Sectional 2 title game at 10 a.m. Tuesday. (Photo courtesy D’Nelle Kelley)

And, after holding Newman Catholic scoreless in the seventh, Bobcat batter Logan Koski singled — his only hit of the game — on a 2-0 count to score Trent McLain and give Florence a thrilling walk-off win.

Before Koski’s heroics, the Bobcats were fueled by William Kelley (2-4, R, RBI), Evan Johnson (1-4, RBI) and McLain (2-3, BB, 2 Rs).

Matthew Smith had a hit and drove in a run, while Bryce Leffler also had a hit and scored a run

As important as their contributions were at the plate, both McLain and Kelley played key roles in keeping the game in reach while on the mound. McLain started the game, pitching four innings and allowing just two runs on six hits and five walks, while fanning six. Then, it was Kelley’s turn. He came in the game in relief, holding the Cardinals to two runs on five his over the final three innings. He struck out four.

Kelley and McLain battled for us on the mound and the team was able to find a way to get on base and put the ball in play in big moments,” Coach Johnson added.

Still, the Fighting Cardinals actually outhit the Bobcats 11-9 but also committed two errors, giving Florence a valuable unearned run.

The Bobcats’ victory Wednesday came just one day after Florence found itself in another intense battle, beating the Wausaukee Rangers 7-5 in the regional semi-final Tuesday.

Evan Johnson led the way for Florence both at the plate and on the mound. As a hitter, he powered the Bobcat offense with a 3-for-4 performance that included a two-run home run, a triple and a double, as well as scoring three times. Logan Schuls (2-3, BB. R, 2 RBIs) was the only other Bobcat to have multiple hits. McLain scored twice thanks to drawing four walks.

Evan Johnson was also Florence’s starting pitcher, striking out eight and walking five in five innings of work, allowing five runs on five hits. McLain pitched the final two innings, fanning two while giving up a hit or a walk.

“Nice win for our team,” Coach Johnson said of the victory over the Rangers. “We were down in the middle of the game and found a way to bounce back and make the plays needed to get back on top.

“Johnson and McLain gave us everything he had tonight on the mound, while the team got the job done at the plate with timely hits down the stretch.”

The Bobcats will now have nearly a week to celebrate their regional title before traveling to Athens to take on the host BlueJays in the WIAA Sectional 2 title game at 10 a.m. on June 6 at Athens Tucker Westfall Memorial Field.

— Report compiled by Dennis Mansfield, Daily News sports editor.


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