Wisconsin-Milwaukee enjoys ‘awesome experience’ versus Brewers
PHOENIX — It is rare a team has smiles on their faces after getting beat by eight runs, but this was not an ordinary game for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers.
For at least the first three innings on Wednesday, members of Wisconsin’s only Division I college baseball team shared a field with major-league players they watch on a nightly basis for seven months of the year.
The end result for the Panthers was an 8-0 loss to the Brewers at Maryvale Baseball Park, but the memories gained will last a lifetime for those in a UWM uniform Wednesday.
"Just a phenomenal experience," UWM head coach Scott Doffek said. "We’ve had this on the schedule for a year, year and a half, and you certainly have it circled. Every one of these guys are aspiring to get to this level. I think college athletics is all about experience and for these guys, you can’t beat something like this — an opportunity to play in (the Brewers’ spring training) stadium and in front of the players these guys all look up to.
"They’re like the rest of us; they can turn the TV on and watch all the games. It’s just an honor. I can’t thank the Brewers enough for allowing us to do this."
It was an especially noteworthy day for UWM right-hander Joe Pavlovich, a graduate transfer from Denmark, Wis. Topping out at 94 mph, Pavlovich struck out the side in the second inning, fanning established major leaguers Adam Lind, Khris Davis and Gerardo Parra.
"It’s an awesome experience," Pavlovich said. "I just went out there and I did what I knew I was capable of doing. I just had to pound the zone. It was fun. What else can I say? I was just out there throwing. I was having fun."
Pavlovich transferred to UWM after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh last spring. He entered with a 9.72 ERA in his first two starts this season, walking seven and striking out nine in 8 1/3 innings against the University of Maine and Grand Canyon University.
Doffek is hoping the confidence boost that comes with striking out three major leaguers will help one of his key arms get on track.
"Even in spring training, that was pretty cool," Doffek said. "It doesn’t get any better than that. You take that with a grain of salt because it’s the first time (the Brewers) have seen live pitching. I don’t expect that would be the case very often but what an honor for him.
"He has really had a hard time mechanically getting over his front side in his first two starts. Whether he was off time or couldn’t relax, but today for whatever reason he had good tempo and really got over the ball. That was really encouraging."
Some of UWM’s main arms, including Germantown (Wis.) High School product Brian Keller, allowed the Panthers to hang with the Brewers through five innings. But UWM couldn’t solve the advanced pitching it saw from Milwaukee, which used Mike Fiers and Jim Henderson before finishing with pitchers likely to begin the season in the minors.
Senior right fielder Derek Peake, a product of Waukesha (Wis.) Catholic Memorial High School, collected UWM’s lone hit, a single up the middle off Taylor Jungmann in the fourth.
"It was fun," Peake said. "We definitely got a little confidence there, sticking with them for a little while, just believing that we could compete with them."
Picked to finish third in the six-team Horizon League, UWM began its season by taking three of four from Maine in Winter Haven, Fla. After their three-game series at No. 7 Louisville was rained out, the Panthers split four games in Phoenix with Grand Canyon.
UWM leaves Phoenix on Thursday to fly to Missouri to face the Tigers in a three-game weekend series. The Panthers won’t play a home game in Milwaukee until April 2.
Doffek didn’t want to speak for the Brewers, but he’s hoping Wednesday’s game starts a tradition of Milwaukee’s professional baseball team playing its collegiate baseball team.
"I don’t want to put the cart before the horse but I know from an administrative standpoint it’s something we’d like to do all the time," Doffek said. "The Brewers have been just phenomenal in the way they’ve treated us. It has been outstanding.
"I hope they felt like it went OK. This is something we’d like to do every other week if possible. I don’t know about every year. We’ll see. But it’s something we would love to do."
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