Rhinelander’s Teagan Guckenberg rounds second following a single by Abe Laggis during the second inning of a Great Northern Legion Conference baseball game against Northwoods at Northland Pines High School in Eagle River Wednesday, July 3. Guckenberg recorded three hits in the Rebels’ 11-9 win over the Eagles. (Photos by Jeremy Mayo/River News)
Rhinelander’s Isaac Bixby delivers a pitch during the third inning of a Great Northern Legion Conference baseball game against Northwoods at Northland Pines High School in Eagle River Wednesday, July 3. Bixby pitched 4 2/3 innings of relief to pick up the win as the Rebels defeated the Eagles, 11-9.
7/6/2019 7:30:00 AM A July fourth Rebels rally past Northwoods 11-9 to clinch share of fourth straight GNLC crown
EAGLE RIVER - The Rhinelander Post 7 Rebels have had a different cast of characters this summer, but the end result is the same.
For the fourth straight year, the Rebels can call themselves champions of the Great Northern Legion Conference.
Rhinelander wrapped up a share of the conference title Wednesday with an 11-9 win over Northwoods at Northland Pines High School in Eagle River. The win moved the Rebels to 7-0 in the GNLC. Rhinelander had a chance to win the title outright Friday night in a game against Medford that concluded after deadline.
"As long as we play good Rebel baseball, we're going to have a chance to win the conference title again," Rebels manager Dan Huhnstock said following Wednesday night's win.
The championship clincher was no cake walk. The Rebels blew an early 5-1 lead but rallied, and ended up needing two insurance runs in the top of the seventh to provide the final margin of victory.
A four-run fourth inning put the Rebels back in front for good. Isaac Bixby drew a walk and Teagan Guckenberg, who had a three-hit night, started the rally for the Rebels. Consecutive RBI hits from Martin Hoger, Jacob Dreifuerst and Liam Stevens put the Rebels ahead and a sacrifice fly by Walker Hartman made it 9-7.
"We had them on the ropes early. We let them off the ropes, but the kids answered," Huhnstock said.
After Northwoods scored a run in the fifth, Rhinelander came back with two key runs in the seventh. The Rebels loaded the bases with nobody out as an error that allowed Stevens to reach base was sandwiched between walks by Dreifuerst and Hartman. Dreifuerst scored on a wild pitch and Stevens came around on an RBI groundout.
Bixby relieved Hartman on the mound for Rhinelander during the midst of a six-run Northwoods' third inning. He made it all the way until two out in the seventh inning when Brad Shepard singled home Lars Evenson to pull Northwoods within two runs and put the tying run on base. Huhnstock went to the bullpen and brought on Stevens who needed only three pitches to strike out Aiden Lifschutz and earn the save.
"Can't say enough about (Bixby) just coming in and quieting their bats, keeping them off balance," Huhnstock said. "It was a real good effort from him. I thought he was tiring a bit at the end. He threw quite a few pitches and Liam came in with a three-strike close."
Rhinelander jumped on Northwoods right away with three runs in the first inning. Hoger hit a sacrifice fly, Stevens hit an RBI double and Dreifuerst scored on a wild pitch to give the Rebels an early lead. After Northwoods scored a run in the bottom of the inning, Rhinelander answered back with two in the second. Abe Laggis singled home Bixby and Guckenberg scored from third after Northwoods misfired while trying to throw out Laggis at second on a stolen base attempt.
Things went sideways for the Rebels in the top of the third as Hartman allowed the first five batters of the inning to reach through a combination of two walks, a hit batsman, a two-run triple by Zach Ciran and an RBI single by Tucker Wittkopf.
"Just a little bit of loss of focus," Huhnstock said. "I told him after the two walks he needed to focus. What does he do? He turns around and beans the next guy. The focus just wasn't there. I don't know if it's warm, lifting schedules, whatever. It wasn't his best outing, but one he's going to learn from and work through. We definitely have not lost any confidence in him."
Huhnstock brought in Bixby at that point and it took him a little while to settle in. After walking Braden Neubauer, Bixby gave up a two-run single to Evenson that gave Northwoods the lead. Shepard singled in a run two batters later to put the Eagles ahead 7-5.
Rhinelander brought its hitting shoes against Hopkins, one of Northwoods' best pitching options, tagging him for 11 runs on eight hits over 6-plus innings. Guckenberg finished the night 3-for-4 while Stevens was 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs.
"I thought he might have been a little off," Huhnstock said of Hopkins. "It didn't seem like he had the normal pop that he did, but he's still a quality pitcher and (it's) a win against a quality pitcher."
Bixby allowed three runs on seven hits with four strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings of relief in the win, his first Legion pitching outing of the summer after primarily throwing for Laser Pros International at the Babe Ruth level.
The Rebels are in the midst of a three-day tournament in Merrill. After playing Medford yesterday, Rhinelander takes on Merrill and Holmen today and closes the tournament against Madison tomorrow.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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