High Heat: May 8

KENOSHA, Wis.–John Matera isn’t the kind of guy who asks for much out of life. The hard-working, strong-willed Tremper High coach is a lot like many in his profession, taking pride in the maturation of his players and always deflecting praise when it’s offered.

But for 4 hours 38 minutes on an April evening this spring, Matera tried any way possible to receive a gift, pleading with his staff, players and perhaps even privately begging for some divine intervention.

That was the amount of time it took Tremper to defeat cross-town rival Horlick High of Racine in a 20-inning contest that was scoreless for 19 innings.

“As coaches, we just looked at each other after every inning and said ‘Is this for real?'” Tremper assistant coach Randy Hoover said. “After a while it got to the point where for four innings in a row coach Matera gave (the players) the talk about ‘going out and scoring a run right here.’ Finally, it got to the point where we weren’t even talking to them. We tried to switch it up. In the 13th inning, we actually told them we didn’t want them scoring. We were trying everything. It was getting comical.”

Improbable Outcome

Because of the climate, weather is the main proponent of playing baseball in the summer rather than the spring in Wisconsin. But the state’s athletic association has begun sanctioning a spring season and this year 371 teams have elected to compete. More than 75 additional schools participate in the state’s summer season, and days like April 24 is why spring baseball in the Badger State is so tough to pull off.

With temperatures in the low 40s and occasional drizzle, Matera filled out his lineup card in preparation for what was sure to be a stern test against Horlick.

Of course, he didn’t imagine his team failing to push across a run for 19 innings, but that was the case as the teams carried play to the 20th still tied 0-0.

“I kept thinking that ‘we don’t have a run now, but we’ll get one,’ ” said Nick Rice, Tremper’s senior lefty who pitched the first six innings before joining his teammates in the dugout praying for a run. “Around the 10th inning I thought, ‘uh oh, there’s no signs of any one scoring.’ I think we just needed a little pressure on us.”

That pressure finally came in the 20th, when Horlick broke through when a wind-aided, two-out pop-up was misplayed by second baseman Matt Gianeselli, allowing two Horlick baserunners to score.

But the fateful fly ball wouldn’t be that final strange sequence of this wild contest, as Tremper came back in the bottom of the 20th to tie the game 2-2. With two outs and runners on first and third, the game-winning run crossed the plate on a balk by Horlick reliever Anthony Wurster. The lefty lifted his front leg, saw the runner break from first base, hesitated and never threw over to first base. The home plate umpire called the obvious balk, and the game was finally over.

“It was a mix of relief, celebration and amazement,” Matera said. “This had to be one of the most incredible games ever played.”

Historic Context

The epic is tied for the nation’s 10th-longest high school game played, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. It was an inning away from matching the all-time longest scoreless game record of 20 innings set when Overland Park, (Kan.) rivals Blue Valley Northwest and Blue Valley North played to a 0-0 tie on May 20, 1997.

The record for the longest documented high school game in U.S. history was on March 25, 1967 when Honolulu‘s Kamehameha High defeated McKinley High (Honolulu) 9-3 in 25 innings.

“Looking back on it, this is something the kids are going to remember for the rest of their lives, simply because how historic it was,” Matera said. “As a player, you play in so many baseball games over the course of your playing days and this will for sure be one game that stands out 20, 30, 40 years from now.”

The game included a total of nine errors, 18 hits, 31 runners left on base, 42 strikeouts and 157 plate appearances.

Tremper had its chances to end the game well before the 20th inning. The Trojans had runners at first and third with no outs in the bottom of the first inning but failed to score, then had a runner thrown out at the plate in the seventh inning before loading the bases with no outs in the ninth.

Amazingly, the game featured only seven pitchers. Horlick used three, thanks to eight innings of one-hit ball by starter Murphy Olson and reliever Kyle Kisner, who tossed nine shutout innings before giving way to Wurster.

Rice and fellow senior Andrew Paulauskas combined for 15 shutout innings, and were the main reason the Trojans are considered one of the state’s top teams.

Rice is a 6-foot-6 lefthander who routinely throws in the mid-80s with his fastball and has impressed scouts this spring with good command of his curveball and changeup. He’s committed to Southern Illinois.

Paulauskas throws even harder than Rice, with a fastball that sits near 90 mph. The 6-foot-2 righthander has committed to Madison (Wis.) Area Community College.

It took all the ammunition Tremper could throw at Horlick for the Trojans to keep the game tied, but eventually the top two prospects on the field would be just like everyone else still watching at Nash Park in the 20th inning–cold and hoping for an ending.

Kenosha, Wis.


• Seton Hall Prep (West Orange, N.J.) has been the only team to occupy the No. 1 ranking in the Baseball America/National High School Coaches Associaton Top 50 this season, and the Pirates (18-0) remained perfect with another one-sided victory May 6 in the Great North Tournament. Rick Porcello, a senior righthander who is considered the top high school pitcher in the country by many scouts, was 4-0, 0.47 with 60 strikeouts and seven walks in 30 innings. Seton Hall had posted run-rule wins in more than half of its games, outscoring its competition 164-28.

• In 2000, Landon Powell acquired his GED diploma in an effort to sign with a major league team as a free agent following his junior year of high school. In 2006, Robert Stock enrolled early at Southern California through the school’s honors program and was playing college baseball the same spring he would have been a high school senior.

Now, Tommy Winegardner is leaving high school early. The 17-year-old from St. Leonard, Md., was considered one of the top high school sophomores in the country, but has put himself in position to graduate, and thus become draft eligible, in 2008.

The move is not as drastic as it might sound. When he was in middle school, Winegardner attended a baseball academy in Florida before returning to live with his family. However, his academic credits were not transferable, so he essentially lost a school year. He has since accrued enough credits to put himself on pace for graduation next year.

“I talked to my coaches and parents and we decided it was a good idea,” Winegardner said.

Winegardner, who is home schooled while playing baseball at Riverdale Baptist High (Upper Marlboro, Md.) about an hour away, will continue courses this summer while playing for a travel team. He will finish his coursework in the fall so he can concentrate on baseball next spring.

His mission now is to make sure that college coaches know about his plans.

“I’m sending letters to major Division I schools, telling them about me moving up,” said Winegardner. a talented two-way prospect with a high-80s fastball to go along with the ability to switch-hit and play shortstop.

Winegardner says he has interest in Clemson, Louisiana State, South Carolina Virginia and Virginia Tech.

• As the regular season wound down in California, one of the state’s–and nation’s–top underclassman was boosting his reputation. Junior outfielder Isaac Galloway (Los Osos High, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) was 5-for-12 during a three-game stretch that included six RBIs, a two-run home run and a two-run, game-winning triple in the top of the seventh inning to cap a five-run rally. He was batting .380 (27-for-71) with seven triples, nine doubles and 12 stolen bases for the 14-4 Grizzlies.

• Across the country, junior outfielder Peter Verdin was enjoying quite a year, as well. Verdin was batting .500 (38-for-76), with eight doubles, two home runs and 15 stolen bases as the leadoff man for Paul VI High (Fairfax, Va.), which was 20-3 overall.

Contributing: Nathan Rode.