A year ago, Brookfield Central’s first playoff game was its only playoff game of 2016, losing 8-2 at Sussex Hamilton.
“I had a terrible feeling in my stomach,” Brookfield Central pitcher Michael Hinz remembered. “I knew I wasn’t going to let that happen this time.”
Coming into Thursday’s regional final against Waukesha West, Hinz had a different gut feeling.
“We are going to win this game,” Hinz explained. “We are playing on Monday.”
Hinz’s gut was correct, as Brookfield Central narrowly fended off Waukesha West to advance to sectionals, 2-1. But Hinz’s gut was not the only thing working in Thursday’s win. His arm handcuffed a Waukesha West offense that scored 11 runs Tuesday in its regional semifinal win over Pius XI to just one run.
“Michael Hinz is just a bulldog going at guys all game,” Brookfield Central coach Jeff Bigler said. “He is a competitor. You can see it on his face. You can see it every time he takes the ball.”
Hinz finished the game with only three hits, one walk and one earned run in seven innings of work.
"People are like, 'Oh, he doesn't throw that hard," Waukesha West coach Chad Montez said. "But his slider is pretty good and everything has downward movement. I can see why he's their number one (pitcher)."
However, Hinz was quick to deflect credit to his catcher M.J. Houdek.
“It always helps when you have M.J. Houdek behind the plate,” Hinz said. “He seems to make things easy.”
The senior hurler had run support right from the beginning. After Houdek reached base via a first-inning walk, a fielder’s choice and Max Meves single brought in the first run of the game.
“Whoever can get on top first, especially in a playoff game, definitely has that upper hand,” Bigler said. “Even if it’s a one-run game.”
Michael Panos added to the team’s offense in the second inning with an RBI single to score right fielder Nate Denofre.
“That really gave me the confidence right away,” Hinz said. “I knew I could keep them to one run.”
Waukesha West starting pitcher Wyatt Wilderman eventually found his groove against the Lancer lineup after Panos’ double, capping Central to just three hits after the second run scored.
"Wyatt got better as the game went on," Montez said. "He has that bulldog mentality and just keeps coming at you."
When the offense struggled, the defense stepped up to thwart several Waukesha West opportunities.
"We had chances," Montez said. "We just couldn't break through."
The team routed in the regional semifinals the year before is now two games away from the state tournament. As the sectional host, Brookfield Central will not have to play another road game until the state tournament at Kapco Park.
“We have hosted three of the last five sectionals and have not played in one yet,” Bigler said. “So it’s special to be on our home field to host the sectional.”
Back on their home turf, the Lancers will take on second-seeded Waukesha North. The winner will then play the winner of Marquette and Wauwatosa East with a trip to Kapco on the line.
“We’ll be ready,” Bigler said. “Our top two pitchers are going to be ready to go. We'll be a confident group heading onto our home turf on Monday.”