With one swing of the bat, Sauk Prairie’s Sam Koenig stunned Verona on Sunday, Aug. 25, at Jaycee Park in Sauk City.
Koenig hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the 10th inning to propel the Twins to an 8-6 victory over the Cavaliers in the first round of the Home Talent League championship series.
Verona will host Evansville on Sunday at Stampfl Field in the second round of the HTL championship series. Sun Prairie beat the Jays 9-4 in the other first-round game.
Verona (18-2) had just taken the lead with three runs in the top of the frame but couldn’t shut the door on the Twins.
“I thought for sure we were going to pull it out,” said Verona’s Rob Capener, who hit a pinch-hit, go-ahead home run to left in the top of the 10th. “In my 20 years of playing, that’s one of the craziest games I have been a part of.”
Verona scored three runs in the top of the 10th, including Capener’s solo home run to left off Connor Leister that gave the Cavaliers a 4-3 lead. The homer came on a fastball with two strikes.
“I was just hoping to make contact and get a good swing on the ball,” Capener said. “I was just going with what I saw. It was an inside fastball and I just turned on it.”
Verona player-manager David Lund lauded Capener for his late-game heroics.
“For him to be sitting on the bench the whole game and to come in that type of at-bat and have that result was huge,” Lund said.
After the homer, Justin Scanlon singled with two outs and stole second, setting the stage for John Moynihan’s RBI single. Luke Yapp followed with an RBI double down the third-base line to extend the Cavaliers’ lead to 6-3. Yapp went 2-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs.
The bottom of the 10th quickly got off to a rocky start, though, when relief pitcher Jason Erxleben walked Jeremy Meier. Benjamin Lenerz then lined a double to left before Elijah Jorgenson singled to cut Verona’s lead to 6-4.
“We knew they have had some comebacks and if you give them a chance, they will take it and run with the momentum,” Lund said. “Not getting the first out was huge for them.”
Next up, Alex Mayer popped up a bunt and Yapp made a diving attempt at third base but came up short, and Mayer beat his throw to first base and Jorgenson beat first baseman Mike Jordahl’s throw to second to load the bases. That set the table for Koenig, who crushed a pitch from Erxleben over the green fence in left to end it.
It was a close game throughout. With the score tied 3-3 in the eighth inning, Verona intentionally walked Koenig to load the bases with one out. Yapp made a diving catch at third base, and turned an inning-ending double play when he touched third base.
“I felt a sigh of relief,” he said. “We were in a huge situation with the bases loaded and they are a good hitting team. Luckily, it was in my reach, and I made a play.”
Earlier, Yapp crushed a two-run home run to center in the fourth to give the Cavaliers a 3-1 lead.
“He threw me three or four straight fastballs and he was pounding me inside with the two-seamer,” he said. “Luckily, with two strikes, I was sitting on it. I tried to stay short and simple and it ended up working out for me.”
The Twins battled back and tied the game on Lucas Koenig’s two-run single to right center in the fifth.
Sauk Prairie pulled out the win despite committing four errors, while Verona turned three double plays.
Verona’s Kyle Nelson started and went five innings, giving up three runs on five hits. Erxleben pitched five innings and gave up five runs on seven hits, striking out two and walking one.
“Like we have always said, we feel confident with whoever is out there,” Lund said. “Nelly (Nelson) was getting tired and we felt confident going to Erx (Erxleben).”