Sussex - Meet the Hamilton Chargers softball team, this year's bracket buster.
First, the ninth-seeded Chargers traveled to Kettle Moraine, downing the No. 8 seed Lasers, 9-5. Next to fall was the No. 1 seed, Greater Metro Conference powerhouse Menomonee Falls, 9-2. In the sectional semifinal on June 4, Hamilton took care of No. 5-seeded West Allis Hale, 6-4.
On June 7, the Chargers won as the underdog for the fourth consecutive time, stopping No. 2 seeded Watertown, 4-3, in the championship game of the WIAA Division 1 sectional. If Hamilton pulls off another upset, it will be with the entire state softball community watching at the state tournament in Madison.
The event, held at Goodman Diamond (home of the Wisconsin Badgers women's softball team) begins with the 9 a.m. quarterfinal Tuesday between the upstart Chargers and Chippewa Falls (25-2).
"This group of girls believed in themselves the entire season," Hamilton head girls softball coach Jim Lawinger said. "We had some tough losses down the stretch, but I said anything can happen, and that's held our team together.
"It started with a big win against Kettle Moraine, then Falls, Hale, what can you say about this team? They're an athletic group that's on a roll right now."
In the meeting with Watertown (18-8), Chargers shortstop Jenny Shernell helped Hamilton draw first blood with a solo home run over the center field fence in the top of the first inning, but Watertown quickly responded with three runs, all unearned, in the bottom half of the inning.
Erin Lang and Brenna Seeber walked to start the first inning for the Goslings. After a fielder's choice off the bat of Andrea Olson, Watertown pitcher Genelle McFarland reached on an infield error. Another error in the outfield allowed the Goslings to score three times.
It could have been the moment that finally marked the stroke of midnight for Cinderella. But it wasn't.
"It was a nightmarish first inning, but I think that's all nerves when you get this far," Lawinger said. "They really played well after that."
Katie Weber walked and scored in the third inning, cutting Watertown's lead to 3-2. In the top of the fifth, Taylor Vigani delivered a run-scoring single and Sami Williams reached on an error, putting Hamilton in front, 4-3. Weber and Shernell scored the runs on the successive plays.
After the first-inning jitters by Hamilton, Watertown didn't send more than four batters to the plate the rest of the game off winning pitcher Sydney Sprinkel. Seeber, a speedy slap-hitter, led off the bottom of the third inning with an infield hit but was gunned down trying to steal second by Chargers catcher Bailee Bobert. Sprinkel also struck out back-to-back hitters in the sixth inning.
In the seventh, it was nail-biting time, as Sprinkel walked Breanna Schuett and fell behind, 2-0, on Taylor Kuehl before Lawinger called time for conference in the circle. At that point, he was convinced to stay with Sprinkel.
"I thought about bringing in Emily (Jansen), our closer," Lawinger said. "But when I went out there, Syd sold me and the group, stating, 'I can get it done.' She had the confidence, and that was good enough for me."
After Kuehl put down a sacrifice bunt, Hannah Jensen grounded out to second. Sprinkel got Lang to ground out back to the mound, and the celebration was on.
"The girls had to play tough and they all came through today," Lawinger said. "Wow. This is awesome."
Shernell was nearly at a loss for words after chaotic jubilation.
"Oh my gosh, I'm so excited," she said. "Excited for everyone on this team."
Christa Goetz struck out 10 in the state quarterfinal back in 1991, but Westosha Central defeated the Chargers, 2-0, in Waukesha. More than two decades later, if this year's group can defeat Chippewa Falls, it could again meet Westosha Central, which faces off with Appleton East, in a 6 p.m. Friday semifinal.
This marks the eighth time Hamilton has qualified for the state tournament.
Baseball wins two of three
The Hamilton baseball team won two out of three games last week, stopping Wauwatosa East on June 4, 10-0, before defeating Milwaukee Marquette on June 7, 10-9, in eight innings. Against West Allis Hale, the Chargers were defeated, 5-3.
Hamilton outhit the Red Raiders, 10-1. Senior Mark Lunowa and junior Aaron Mushall each had two hits for the Chargers and Nick Patterson had a two-run single. Lunowa pitched a complete game, striking out seven while walking two.
"We dominated against Tosa East from start to finish, and I was really proud of the way we played today," Hamilton head baseball coach Mike Schramek said.
Against the Hilltoppers, Tyler Kozlowski pitched seven innings. He struck out five and walked three. Junior Sam Leinon was the winning pitcher in relief.
Hamilton won the game in the bottom of the eighth inning on an RBI single from junior Taylor Paepke.
Two errors proved costly in the setback against West Allis Hale in a forgetful four-run sixth inning.
The game ended with an incredible catch on a ball by the Huskies' right-fielder off the bat of senior Kyle Schiedemeyer.
"He made a miraculous play on the ball," Schramek said. "He had to check his glove. He did not realize he made the play at first."
Schramek was disappointed in the loss to the Huskies after two quality victories.
"You never want to lose to a lesser opponent, and we did that," Schramek said.
On June 14, the Chargers (8-3) are at Brookfield Central and on June 16, Hamilton is at Waukesha West.
Elliotts, Menzia led soccer
On the heels of what head girls soccer coach Tom Konkol called a magic season last year, this was a rebuilding process at Hamilton on the pitch this go-round. And yet, there was plenty to talk about.
"This season, we replaced nine players, on the varsity but it was still a special season for us," Konkol said. "We feel that we played our best soccer against the best teams. There was a level of play achieved at times that exceeded any teams from Hamilton teams past."
The Chargers landed two players, twin sisters Rachel and Robyn Elliott, on the Greater Metro Conference first-team list. Rachel made the team as a forward, and Robyn was voted first team by the league coaches in the midfield.
"Both players are nominated for All-State consideration," Konkol said.
Brooke Menzia, who earned her fourth varsity letter this spring, was named second-team All GMC as a defender. She was voted the team's most valuable player and received a plaque for her dedication and commitment to the program.
Kara Bednarek, another four year varsity player at Hamilton, was an honorable-mention pick in the GMC. She also received the coveted Scholar Athlete Award.
Sophomores Hannah Conant and Hannah Menzia, defender and midfielder respectively, were both honorable-mention players. The most improved player on the team was sophomore Robin White.
"Our nonstarters played a major roll in our overall success this season," Konkol said. "Our seniors (Bednarek and Brooke Menzia) were a constant, stable influence on our team with their play and support for teammates, which is huge when half of the team is new to the varsity level of play."
Hamilton finished 12-7-0.
"How we played the game was simply moving to us at times," Konkol said. "We would just step back and say, 'Wow. This is really cool.' "
Hamilton 4, Watertown 3
Winning pitcher: Sydney Sprinkel
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