GRAND CHUTE, Wis. -

Behind strong pitching and timely hitting, Westby downed 4th-ranked Deerfield 2-1 to reach the WIAA Div. 3 state championship game.

"I'm lost for words," said Tyler Ihrcke, who pitched 7 innings, allowing one run and striking out five. "We knew they were a good team. We did enough to win. It was right down to the end like most of our games have been."

Demons pitcher Cole Erickson had an ERA below 2.00 this season, but Westby set the tone early. The Norsemen didn't score in the first inning, but they hit a double and single with two outs.

"For us to come out and put the bat on the ball right away, get a couple of hits, I think certainly made us realize he's a good pitcher, but he's hittable," said Westby Head Coach John Hamilton. "I think it got our confidence up."

Westby used that confidence in the 5th. With the game tied 1-1, Nick Neely hit a sacrifice fly to center with the bases loaded. The go-ahead run proved to be the winning RBI, and Ihrcke retired six of the last seven batters he faced.

"Once we got that 2-1 lead, I just went out there and tried to work in a groove because it's a lot easier to pitch with the lead than to play from behind," Ihrcke said.

"It was gutsy as hell," said Alex Robson. "He's a great pitcher and he has been doing it for us all year."

Westby, who was playing at State for the first time since 1997, will have a shot at its first-ever state title when they face Oconto Thursday at noon. Hamilton said junior Mitchell Larson will take the mound for Westby, while Oconto's top two pitchers in terms of innings pitched will be available for the Blue Devils.