By Alex Strouf
Caleb Willems tossed the first perfect game in De Pere Dodgers history on Thursday night, leading the Dodgers to a 12-0 win over the Oshkosh Giants in five innings.
The team, led by Willems’ historic performance on the bump, rocked original jerseys from the 1990’s Green Bay Blue Ribbons team, the first time the jerseys have been worn since 1996. Waiting 22 years to be used proved good luck for the 22-year-old right hander.
Willems threw 57 pitches in 5.0 IP, striking out seven batters. That, of course, went along with the zero walks and zero hits given up by the Dodgers defense.
“I’ve never thrown a perfect game,” Willems admitted with a smirk. “I combined for a no-hitter with another kid back in little league, though.
“I felt like I was really able to locate tonight. Heavy doses of fastball, a little bit of slider, some changeups. I was just keeping guys guessing,” said Willems. “I was just keeping the ball low and that was the plan coming in.”
Willems gave the Dodgers the energy they needed after losing five straight heading into Thursday’s match-up with the last place Giants. Offensively, Willems also provided a spark, going 2-for-2 and scoring a trio of runs.
“After that five game slide, we knew that it was important for myself on the mound to throw a lot of strikes, and up to bat, put the ball in play, and we knew good things would happen,” said Willems.
Good things happened indeed, and it started right from the get-go.
De Pere right fielder Noah Robinson swung and singled on the first pitch thrown by Oshkosh starter Blake Halverson. Robinson would eventually score the first of 12 runs put up by the Dodgers offense. Robinson was 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBI, breaking a five game hitless streak.
“I like to attack early. If it’s there, it’s there,” said Robinson. “It finally started to click again.”
As expected, De Pere’s offense was just back to basics with the defensive insurance of Willems, who has a 0.00 ERA in 14.0 innings pitched this season, tied for the best in the Wisconsin State League.*
“There’s really no pressure at all,” said Robinson. “When he’s throwing that well, it’s just about going out there and having fun.”
Dodgers first baseman Sam Kohnle went 2-for-2, improving his batting average to a league-best .469 on the year.
With the victory, the Dodgers improve to 13-7 overall on the year (7-6 in WSL play) and stay firm in second place behind only the defending champion Lombard Orioles, who are a perfect 20-0 on the year.
The Dodgers now go on the road for a 12-game road trip, beginning with a pair of doubleheaders this weekend in Kenosha against the Kings. De Pere returns to Westwood Park on July 17th to play a non-league match-up against the Branch Blaze.
*Minimum 10 innings pitched