At one point in the 1990s and early 2000s, Wauwatosa East and Waukesha North were regularly collecting wins in the postseason. But of late, both programs have endured years of struggle.
That made the fact the Red Raiders and Northstars were meeting in a WIAA regional final on July 15 a significant step for each school.
Third-seeded Waukesha North (21-10) continued its resurgence by pulling away late in a 7-2 win over sixth-seeded Wauwatosa East at Frame Park, ending the Red Raiders season at 16-16.
'I was very proud of they way our guys played,' Wauwatosa East coach Pete Schwichtenberg said. 'Just like they have all year, they showed no quit and gave everything that they had until the final out.
'We knew going in that Waukesha North could hit and they came out swinging. Though it ended up a 7-2 game, it felt much closer as all of their runs came with two-outs.'
It was Waukesha North's first playoff win since 2002 and its first regional championship since 2001. Wauwatosa East, which won its first playoff game since 2007 to advance to face the Northstars, hasn't won a regional since 2006.
'We came out with a game plan to be aggressive at the plate and aggressive on the mound,' Waukesha North coach Dan D'Amico said. 'We tried not to take anyone lightly. We told them if we came out and played the game we played all year we'd be OK. I think we did a nice job of doing that.'
Close game early
Wauwatosa East threatened to get on the board in the top of the second when Aaron Plaisted and Ricky Serrano hit consecutive one-out singles. Waukesha North starter Dylan Conrad worked out of trouble by getting Sean Murphy to hit into an inning-ending double play.
Jamie Dewitt led off the bottom of the second with a single to left off Plaisted and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Conrad. With runners at second and third after a walk and a groundout, Logan Kozak put Waukesha North up 1-0 on a two-out infield single that scored Dewitt.
James Winters and Jacob Pryor singled to start the third, while Nick Dorshorst drew a walk to load the bases with nobody out. Plaisted recovered to work out of the inning without allowing a run by getting Dewitt to pop out to first, Conrad to pop out to shortstop and Lovelien to hit into a fielder's choice.
North breaks through
It appeared as if the Red Raiders would work out of another jam in the fifth when Plaisted struck out a pair after walking a batter and giving up a double to Dorshorst to start the inning.
However, Waukesha North finally got the big hit it was lacking earlier in the game when Lovelien doubled to left to score a pair and put the Northstars up, 3-0.
After a walk, Kozak connected for a two-run double off Red Raiders reliever Isaac Martin to make it 5-0.
'We can hit,' D'Amico said. 'We're not shocked that it happened, but we're happy it came at the time that it did.'
Wauwatosa East got to Conrad in the sixth, scoring two runs to pull to within 5-2. Sam Rutkiewicz and Sean Denny hit singles to start the rally. Dan Scallon then doubled to center to score Rutkiewicz. Denny advanced to third on the double and scored on a groundout by Spencer Michaelis.
Waukesha North didn't let Wauwatosa East have hope in its final at-bat by answering with two insurance runs with two outs in the bottom of the sixth.
Dorshorst drew a two-out walk and went to second on a throwing error by Martin. After an intentional walk to Dewitt, Conrad doubled to center to score two.
Plaisted gave up four runs on eight hits over 4 2/3 innings, while Martin surrendered three runs in 1 1/3 innings.
'We could not have asked for more from Aaron Plaisted,' Schwichtenberg said. 'He battled and gave everything he had on the mound and kept us in the game.'
Conrad tossed a complete game for Waukesha North, allowing just two runs on nine hits. The sophomore struck out just two but did not walk a batter.
'Dylan had a great night on the mound,' D'Amico said. 'We don't expect anything less out of him for being a sophomore. He really gives us a quality outing each time he's out there.'
Considering where the Waukesha North program has been of late, winning a regional championship is a big accomplishment.
After winning just two games in 2014, the Northstars jumped to 14 wins in 2015 and now have 21 in 2016.
'You can't lie and say that it is not a big deal because it is,' D'Amico said. 'Coming in to the year, our first goal was to win a playoff game. Now that we've accomplished that, our next goal is to do something more. We know we have bigger plans.'