New Berlin - Halfway through their Land O' Lakes Eastern Division playoff contest against West Allis on Sunday afternoon, the New Berlin Lakers appeared to be in trouble.
The Lakers were tied with the Nighthawks at one game apiece in their best-of-three series, and they trailed 6-2 heading into the bottom of the fifth inning.
Rallying into the finals
Adam Vlaj drew them closer with a two-run double to make it 6-4, then the turnaround continued in the bottom of the seventh. Eric Martwick, the ninth-place hitter, belted a grand slam to put New Berlin on top 8-6.
West Allis tied it in the top of the ninth, but Vlaj singled in a run in the bottom of the 10th inning to give New Berlin a thrilling 9-8 victory and a triumph in the semifinal series.
New Berlin advanced to the division championship series against Racine, which was scheduled to begin Wednesday evening. The teams will play at Malone Park on Sunday, beginning at noon. The deciding game, if necessary, will follow on Sunday.
Racine was the fourth seed in the Eastern Division but upset regular-season champion Muskego, two games to one.
In the deciding game on Sunday, the Lakers began the 10th inning with Deano Mlachnik reaching on an error. Jason Brunelli was intentionally walked and, with two outs, Eric Abel also drew a walk.
That brought up Vlaj, who blooped a single to plate the winning run.
The Nighthawks had jumped on top 2-0 in the top of the third inning, and New Berlin answered on a run-scoring triple from Brunelli and RBI single by Tom Donovan in the bottom of the third.
After West Allis assumed its 6-2 advantage, the big hits by Vlaj in the fifth and Martwick in the seventh gave the Lakers the lead heading into the ninth.
The Nighthawks tied it at 8-8, taking advantage of two errors, setting up the 10th-inning rally by New Berlin.
"You have to give their guys credit," said West Allis manager Andy Schwall. "After we jumped out to a quick lead in game three, they could have easily packed it in, but they didn't and just kept after us.
"They're too good of an offense to hold down for too long. As far as I was concerned, we were the two best teams in the league this year."
Preceded by rout
In the opener Sunday, the Nighthawks downed New Berlin, 13-3, in just seven innings due to the 10-run lead rule.
The Lakers scored in the first on an RBI single from Brunelli and a run-scoring groundout by Abel. Nolan Peterson singled in a run in the second.
Peterson had given New Berlin the lead in the series by throwing a no-hitter at West Allis in a 3-1 victory on Aug. 8.
Although pitching dominated that game, the hitters returned for Sunday's split, and the Lakers hope the bats can stay hot against upstart Racine.
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