A major league draft choice of the Milwaukee Brewers and possessor of an 87-mile-an-hour fastball, Grafton pitcher Conor Fisk is obviously an athlete of some proportion.
And he demonstrated that on two occasions in the late innings of the Blackhawks' 1-0 WIAA sectional final upset of top-seeded Nicolet Saturday afternoon in Cedarburg.
The first came in the bottom of the sixth, when Grafton was trying desperately to hold onto its lead. The Knights (25-12) loaded the bases with one out on an error, an infield single and a walk, but Fisk, who didn't allow the hard-hitting Nicolet squad an extra base hit all day, induced a hard chopper which he leaped to field.
He immediately turned and fired to his catcher who quickly stepped on the plate for the force and then whipped the ball over to first for an electrifying inning-ending doubleplay.
"In that situation, all I was trying to do was get out of that mess allowing one run or hopefully less," Fisk said. "I knew I had to get the job done. I was focused on strikeouts, but once I got that ball (on the chopper), I knew what to do with it."
And then he demonstrated his athleticism and stamina in a far more traditional way in the seventh, as already well north of 100 pitches on a hot and steamy day with just three days rest, he looked to close out the Knights quickly.
Fisk got two strikeouts to get a fast start on that idea, but then Nicolet's Joel Sharon caromed a hard hit ball off the Grafton shortstop's glove for a single and then Fisk hit leadoff hitter Brandon Zall with a pitch. Zall got on base three times this game for the Knights and stole two bases.
The Nicolet faithful stirred at Cedarburg as they smelled a a rally and a berth to state.
But it was not to be, as Fisk battled back to strike out Rob Mayer looking for the final out as the Blackhawks (21-9) earned their first state tournament berth since 1983.
Nicolet coach Dick Sykes, whose team was looking for its first state tournament berth since 2006, knew it would be a tough battle this day ever since Grafton coach Brian Durst rolled the dice and won yesterday when he chose to start number two pitcher Dylan Mayer and not Fisk in the Blackhawks' 4-2 semifinal win over Brown Deer.
"All credit to them for that," Sykes said. "They're a whole different team when Fisk pitches. He limited our opportunities and made the big plays when we got men on base. All it would have taken is one guy and one hit to make it a whole different game, but he didn't allow it."
Fisk finished with nine strikeouts, three walks and one hit batsmen.
Grafton will play North Shore Conference champion West Bend West in a WIAA state quarterfinal at Bukolt Park in Stevens Point on Wednesday.
Fisk got the run he needed in the fourth on a short flare single by sophomore Robbie Doring, a sacrifice and a cue-ball of an infield single by C.J. Koehler that skittered off the glove of a Knight infielder and into short left. Doring had slid into third on the play but when he saw the ball go into the outfield, he quickly got up and raced home.
Nicolet actually outhit the Blackhawks, 4-3, as Knight pitcher Max Kramsky had arguably his best outing of the season with four strikeouts, four walks and one hit batsmen. He allowed only two harmless baserunners in the final three innings.
The Knights also stymied Grafton twice in the early innings as second baseman Tyler Crass and the shortstop Zall combined on two pretty doubleplays.
"In a game like this, there's usually a lot of emotion," said Sykes. "We got a nice job out of our pitcher, but it just wasn't enough. ...I'm really happy for Brian (Durst). I know how many lumps he's taken over the last several years (with poor teams), but it's great that he now has this opportunity (state)."
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