BELOIT—For members of the 1993 Beloit Memorial baseball team, the question wasn’t how they managed to reach the WIAA Division 1 state tournament with just nine victories under their belt.
The question was, how did we lose 12 along the way?
In print, we labeled them “Cinderfellas” and compared their season to the movie “Major League.” The truth was they were always a talented team, but had grossly under-achieved.
Expected to contend in the Big Eight Conference, the Purple Knights tripped over every pothole they could find. Their pitchers gave up hits and their defense didn’t back them up. Clutch hits were scarce. Poor attitudes were abundant.
“We thought we really had a good team going in,” third baseman Jeremy Kelsey said. “But we really struggled to get going.”
Beloit finished the regular season 6-12 with a 6-8 mark in the Big Eight.
Then a funny thing happened. The playoffs began and they started living up to their potential. A regional win over Stoughton sent them into a sectional semifinal in Oregon against Madison La Follette.
“When regionals and sectionals came around we turned it on,” outfielder Tim Boatner said. “Our seniors, those guys really wanted it bad.”
Never mind the Lancers had swept two games from the Knights in the Big Eight. Beloit hung an 8-1 sectional loss on the Lancers.
The Knights broke up a scoreless tie in the fifth inning when Tremain Davidson walked, stole second and scored on pinch-hitter Adam Ferger’s two-out single. Beloit then blew the game open in the sixth. Kelsey smacked a three-run homer to dead center and Chad Johnson drove in another run as the Knights went up 5-0. Eric Olson and Jeremy Badger combined on a two-hitter.
The victory advanced the Knights into the sectional final the same day against rival Janesville Craig. The Cougars had edged the host Panthers, 5-4.
Beloit scored in the first inning against Craig. Jeff Faralli walked, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Brian Chesick’s double. Cougar starter Paul Kurtz worked out of jams in the next three innings before the Knights tacked on a run in the fifth. Johnson singled, stole second and scored when Matt Hass doubled.
The Cougars battled back to tie the game in the bottom of the inning with two runs on three hits.
The Knights stranded a runner at third in their half of the seventh and Craig seemed poised to win the game in its half of the inning. When Craig Ohms drew a leadoff walk off Beloit pitcher Mike Stavn and went to second on a wild pitch.
The next batter launched a long drive down the right field line.
“When the guy hit the ball, I remember thinking it’s over, time to go home,” Kelsey said.
Beloit right fielder Tim Boatner turned his back to the infield and raced back, leaped and caught the ball. After bouncing off the right field fence, he heaved the ball to second to double off Ohms. Stavn walked the next batter, but ended the inning with a strikeout.
“I don’t think anyone else in the state could have caught that ball,” Beloit head coach Bob Houck said at the time. “They can’t run as fast or leap as high as he can. He was the perfect guy to have out there.”
Boatner said he even got a late break on the ball.
“I will never forget that catch,” he said. “That was the greatest thing that ever happened to me, other than my kids. I was playing in because he was a right-handed hitter and he belted it down the line. I was just all-out focused on catching that ball. I went full steam and it was heading over my right shoulder. I jumped, caught it and then fired it back toward second. I thought the baserunner was going to try to tag up. I had no idea he was practically home and we doubled him off.”
Kelsey remembered a promise he’d made to Stavn when he visited the mound before Boatner’s catch.
“I told Stavn, ‘If you get us out of this inning, I will hit one out of the park,” he said.
Boatner led off the eighth by striking out for the fourth time and lost his cool, earning an ejection.
“I struck out and there was also some racial tension going on,” Boatner said. “Or at least I thought so. The Craig players were yelling something about Aunt Jemima. Later they said that was just (pitcher Matt) Bunyan’s nickname. I don’t know. It was a young moment for me. The worst thing was that because I was ejected I had to sit out our next game.”
There was a next game because the next batter, Kelsey, hammered the first pitch he saw over the left field fence to give Beloit a 3-2 lead.
“I’d hit against Bunyan a lot in summer ball,” Kelsey said. “He always threw me fastballs pretty much right down the middle. I loved being in that situation. I was pumped up for that moment. But I didn’t see it leave the park. The sun was right in my eyes and I didn’t know it was a homer until I got to second and saw Coach Houck.”
Olson came back to pitch the eighth and pick up the save. In seven innings that day, he allowed no runs on three hits with four strikeouts. In 14 innings in the three postseason wins, Olson allowed three hits and no runs. He had a 3-5 record for the season, but a 1.94 ERA.
Ironically, the Knights’ storyline fit the movie “Major League” five of them had watched at shortstop Gino Barbera’s house earlier in the week. Just like the rags-to-riches Cleveland Indians who reached the World Series, the Knights found late-season redemption.
Beloit’s pitchers certainly finished the season strong. In addition to Olson, Stavn (2-3) had a 2.17 ERA. Chesick (3-3) had a 1.75 ERA and Adam Ferger (0-0) had a 3.50 ERA. For the season, those four pitchers had allowed just six extra base hits in a combined 114 innings of work.
The Knights hit a modest .254 as a team, but they also had some strong finishers. Ferger hit .385 in 26 at-bats. Johnson hit .379 and Chesick .314. Catcher Matt Hass topped the team with 16 RBI, followed by Chesick’s 15 and Kelsey’s 12. Barbera hit .338 for his career, led the team in stolen bases and went on to play for the Princeton Tigers.
“We had all the talent in the world and we finally came together at the end,” Kelsey said.
If this had been Hollywood, a couple wins in Wausau would have followed. But Beloit’s magic ended in the sectional. The Knights didn’t play badly at state, losing a 6-5 heartbreaker to Appleton East. The Knights had tied the game at 5-5 on an RBI triple by Chesick, but he was then thrown out at the plate trying to score on a flyout. Appleton East scored the game-winning run on a bases-loaded walk.
“We should have won that game,” Kelsey said. “Some things didn’t go our way that took the wind out of our sails.”
There have been no official reunions. But many of the players showed their support when they learned a few years ago Kelsey was battling cancer. After three rounds of chemotherapy and 17 rounds of radiation, he has been cancer-free for two years.
“Many of my old teammates reached out to me during that time and I really appreciated it,” he said.