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Pec surges into sectional semis
Pecatonicas Colton Schraepfer slides back to third while Albanys Corbin Kelley tries to get the tag during a game at Albany on April 27. To order this photo, click here. (Times file photo)
BLANCHARDVILLE - School may be out for summer, but the Pecatonica baseball team wants to continue its postseason mantra by doing whatever it takes to advance.

The Vikings have been living up to that motto in the tournament by pulling off a safety squeeze bunt to beat Shullsburg-Benton 4-3 to win a regional final last week. Now, Pecatonica (25-1) enters a Division 4 sectional semifinal showdown against Catholic Central (12-10) at noon today in Johnson Creek as the No. 1-ranked team, two wins away from punching its ticket to the state tournament.

"They would be lying if they said there wasn't pressure or anxiety," said Pecatonica coach Jim Strommen who has a 525-201 record in his 36 years coaching. "They have handled and played with pressure all year long. When you play any type of game in a big scenario like Tuesday, it's important to remember to have fun. There are not many teams left playing and we are one of them. We have as good of a chance as anyone of getting to the state tournament. We just have to keep doing what we have been doing."

In the other sectional semifinal game on Tuesday, defending state champion Rio will play Green Bay New Lutheran. The winner of that game will face the Pecatonica-Catholic Central winner in the sectional final with a state berth on the line Tuesday afternoon.

Catholic Central finished sixth in the Metro Classic Conference. However, the Hilltoppers are the smallest team in a Division 3 conference and have thrived in the tournament knocking off Faith Christian 11-1, Williams Bay 9-5 and pounding Barneveld 12-0 in a five-inning win in a regional championship game.

Strommen was on hand to watch Catholic Central beat Barneveld.

"It's a one-game observation, but they are very similar to us," he said. "They are very athletic and put the ball in play. They are a very good team. The postseason is a different scenario. There is more a sense of urgency."

Catholic Central senior Brandon Vandehei pitched a shutout against Barneveld in the regional final.

"He (Vandehei) has good velocity and is around the strike zone all the time," Strommen said. "Catholic Central has always been a strong baseball program. They have had success as a team. When you get to this level, all teams are playing well."

Hitting and generating runs has not been a problem for the Vikings this year. Pecatonica is averaging 12.2 runs per game and has five players hitting above .440. Pecatonica senior Kyle Kleppe is hitting a team-best .517 with one home run and 43 RBI. Senior Brooks Chandler is hitting .488 with 22 RBI and 21 stolen bases. The other hitters in the Vikings lineup hitting above .400 include junior A.J. Hendrickson (.483), senior Presly Hauser (.470) and senior Gavin Burdick (.448).

"You will not have as many scoring opportunities as you had in some games in the regular season," Strommen said about seeing better pitching in the sectional. "When you get opportunities to score, you have to take advantage of them."

Strommen has not decided who he will start pitching against Catholic Central. He has several options including junior A.J. Hendrickson, who is 7-0 with a 3.19 ERA and 56 strikeouts this season or senior Brooks Chandler (5-0, 1.53 ERA with 55 strikeouts and only 11 walks in 351⁄3 innings) and freshman Carter Ruegsegger (5-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 25 innings).

Catholic Central is led by Ben Heiligenthal who is hitting over .500 this season. Heiligenthal is a three-sport standout, who was named to the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Division 5 All-State team and also excelled at football for the Hilltoppers.

If Pecatonica beats Catholic Central, the team will play the winner of Rio and Green Bay New Lutheran this afternoon. Playing two games in one day is nothing new to the Vikings: Pecatonica played a doubleheader against a team from the Six Rivers West Conference every Friday during the regular season.