HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL

Grant's gamble pays off as Bangor pitchers rise to the occasion at sectionals

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High school sectional baseball day in Wisconsin presents a dilemma for coaches: How do you best utilize your pitchers when, ideally, you'll be playing two do-or-die games in the same day in your bid for state?

The conventional wisdom is to play it safe by having your ace start the sectional semifinals since you don't want to take that sort of elimination game for granted.

That's the route the Bangor Cardinals went with during sectional appearances in 2019 and 2021, during which they fell in the sectional finals. After talking with his seniors, Grant decided to try the riskier strategy of saving ace Ashton Michek in the hopes of having him start the sectional final.

"I've been thinking about that all winter. If we got to that spot again, can we do that? Can we roll the dice a little bit? It kind of looked like we could," Grant said. "We got the seniors together and we all had a discussion and talked it over, made sure that everybody was on board with what we were doing."

That left Chase Horstman with the responsibility of starting the sectional semifinal. He rose to the occasion by allowing only one run in five innings in the Cardinals' 3-1 victory.

Michek was among the group of seniors who discussed the strategy with Grant, and he was fully in favor of it. As someone who experienced the sting of sectional final losses in both 2019 and 2021, he felt it was time for the Cardinals to "go big or go home" in their pursuit of a trip to state.

"We had every bit of confidence in Chase," Michek said. "We knew that he was more than capable of doing the job, and he did. He did the job as perfectly as he could."

Michek was then able to pitch most of Bangor's 9-3 sectional final win over Pecatonica. The gamble had paid off in spades, though Grant was quick to redirect any potential praise headed his way toward the players.

"Who pitches, all that — you can talk about that all you want," Grant said. "It comes down to (the players) have got to make it work, and they did. It's all on them. They did an awesome job."

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