The whole overarching scenario felt weird to both of them, but there was nothing but genuine feeling that went into the hug between Nicolet baseball coach Dick Sykes and his long-time assistant turned head coach at Germantown Jeff Wolf, as the pair prepared to do battle in a North Shore Conference game on an achingly perfect Monday evening in Germantown.
The two coaches were entering new phases of their careers. Wolf had served as Sykes' chief assistant at Nicolet for 18 years before taking the Germantown job last fall while Sykes' had to enter a major rebuilding year without someone whom he felt was his conscience and his guide.
"It's just not the same without him," admitted Sykes in a candid moment after Germantown had won 3-1. "Jason (new assistant Grodsky) does a great job and is a great guy, but when you have someone around 17-18 years like Jeff was, well, it was like we were one person."
"I'd ask him a question, and he'd give me the answer that I was thinking myself. I know it's sad, but I was lucky to have him for that long and they're lucky to have him here now. He knows baseball, he knows talent and he'll make the commitment to them."
"They'll be winning conference titles soon just you watch."
Wolf had been head coach at Horicon, where they play spring ball. It is also where he teaches, but he wanted the opportunity to make life easier for his family and he wanted to coach too, so when the Germantown job came up, he took it.
"That was one of the longest phone calls in my life," said Wolf of his conversation with Sykes' last fall. "...I've learned so much from Coach Sykes in my time under him. He's a (state coaches' association) Hall of Famer and he's like family to me."
"It was a tough call when I accepted the job. If I didn't think as much of him (Sykes) as I did it would have been easy."
"But it wasn't."
There will be another game a little later this summer back at the pair's old mutual stomping grounds of Stormonth Park.
The outcome really didn't matter, but both had reason to feel good about the Warhawks' win in the crisply played 95-minute game that was dominated by Germantown junior pitcher Brian Keller, who had eight strikeouts and allowed just two hits and got excellent backing from a defense that turned two doubleplays.
Keller, the Germantown ace, who was coming off a rough outing against Cedarburg last week, had his curveball working and put down the first 10 Knights that he saw.
Nicolet's Ryan Korngiebel got the first hit with one out in the fourth and Keller, who had already benefitted from a great diving catch from centerfielder Jimmy Doedens in the second and a neatly a turned 5-4-3 doubleplay after Korngiebel's single, didn't face a really serious challenge until the sixth.
Germantown was cruising with a 3-0 lead at that point, but Nicolet pitcher Jason Blumenfeld dropped a little flare over first base for a single and then Keller walked the nine-hole hitter.
And when Germantown couldn't quite make the play on lead-off hitter Tyler Crass' bunt, the bases were loaded with none out.
"I just went out there and told him that they're a good hitting team but that he had done a good job of limiting their chances," said Wolf. "I also told him that he was pitching a heck of a game so just make a pitch and let's get out of this."
And Keller did, getting Korngiebel to smack a hard grounder to shortstop Brandon Seifert, who then combined with second baseman Jordan Kuczynski and first baseman Matt Eggert for a 6-4-3 doubleplay.
The Knights' only run of the game scored on the play, but the most serious part of the threat was over and Keller got the final out when D.J. Peltz flew out to right.
Keller then pitched a one-two-three seventh to finish the game.
"It was just a good game," said Keller, who had a major breakout victory in the WIAA sectional semifinal game last summer. "I was locating my pitches and hitting the glove. I've been working with Danny (Krause) my catcher for a long time and we work well together."
"...It was just good to get a nice game in, just doing what I do best."
His coach agreed.
"I told Brian that was one of the best performances that I've seen in 20 years of coaching," said Wolf.
Germantown had taken a 2-0 lead in the first on DH Blake Fleischman's RBI double and a wildpitch. In the second, Tom Andrus singled home Krause, who had reached on an error, to make it 3-0.
"It was a great game," said Sykes, "and they're a whole another team playing behind him (Keller). Jason (Blumenfeld) had a pretty good game for us (throwing four scoreless innings after the first), but Keller did a good job keeping us off-balance because we're not a bad-hitting team."
And speaking of off-balance, one had to do a double-take when they encountered retired Nicolet Athletic Director and Knight Hall of Fame member Frank Wolf, who just happens to be Jeff's Dad.
He could be found behind the Germantown dugout cheering his son's team on wearing a Germantown hat and t-shirt.
"I've been at Nicolet since 1961 and I can tell this is the first time I've worn any other schools' colors since," he chuckled, "but how does that old saying go? 'Blood is thicker than water.'"
"What a nice win for him (Jeff)."
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