Sussex - A fascinating study in contrasts developed during the WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal softball game between West Allis Hale and Sussex Hamilton on Monday evening.
The Huskies entered the game with a powerful lineup led by Rachel Seefeldt and Sarah Mueller, who had combined for 22 home runs and 83 RBIs this season.
The Chargers countered with their version of small-ball, featuring plenty of bunting and aggressive baserunning.
In this game at least, the BB guns got the best of the big guns, as Hamilton prevailed, 6-4.
The Chargers advanced to sectional play Thursday, while the Huskies finished their strong season at 17-7. The Chargers (15-9) caught Hale off guard with their approach.
"They definitely executed with their small-ball," Hale coach Kay Nichols said. "That's something we haven't seen a lot this season, and our girls weren't prepared for it. His (Hamilton coach Jim Lawinger) strategy worked well, and it definitely put the pressure on us."
Nichols said the Chargers had not played that type of game in either of the teams' two meetings this season, both won by Hale, 6-3 and 4-1.
"He's bunted in the past, but he really stepped it up today," Nichols said. "I give him credit for coming with an aggressive strategy."
Lawinger said, "In the big games, you've got to get the job done. We've got to put pressure on the defense, we've got to hit the ball, and we've got to make the plays."
The Huskies tried to put pressure on Hamilton in the first two innings with leadoff hits. In the first, Tyler Jeschke doubled, but she was thrown out at third base on a fielder's choice grounder. Jenny Schmidt started the second with a single to left field and was bunted to second, but Hamilton starter Sydney Sprinkel struck out the next two hitters.
The Chargers got on the board in the third when Whitney Wnuk walked, went all the way to third on a bunt and then came home on a squeeze bunt from Katie Weber.
They added three in the fourth on just one hit, scoring on a fielder's choice, wild pitch and another squeeze bunt from Emily Jansen.
Trailing 4-0, the Huskies finally came to life in their half of the fourth. Seefeldt and Mueller both singled, with Seefeldt coming home on an error. With the bases loaded and two outs, Teara Morgenroth lined a two-run single to right field to bring Hale within 4-3.
Seefeldt then blasted a pitch over the right field fence to tie the game at 4-4 in the fifth. Mueller followed with a double but was stranded at second.
In the sixth, Sami Williams of Hamilton reached on a bunt single, stole second and came home on a two-out single by Jansen for a 5-4 lead.
Hale put the tying run on base in its half of the inning but the Chargers escaped when shortstop Jenny Shernell fielded a hard bouncer, stepped on second and threw to first for a double play.
The Chargers tallied again in the seventh when Weber hustled home on a throw after one runner was out at the plate on a squeeze bunt attempt.
Hale could not answer. Seefeldt doubled for her third hit of the day, but the game ended when Shernell nabbed a shot up the middle by Mueller.
Seefeldt and Mueller combined for five hits, but apart from the one home run by Seefeldt, the Chargers were able to keep them in the park.
"They're probably the two best hitters in the state," Lawinger said. "To shut them down and win it, you can't write a better storybook finish."
Relays place at state
Amber Sanderson of La Crosse Logan celebrated heartily after clinching the 4x200-meter relay victory for her school at the WIAA Division 1 state meet in her hometown. The Logan foursome knew they had just beaten a state heavyweight to get to the line first.
In a way, that's consolation for the Chargers, who came into the field as the two-time state champs in that event and possible winner in two other relays. But despite running their best time of the year (1:41.21), Hamilton fell to second place.
"We just got beat," Hamilton girls coach Ben Nysse said. "We ran our best time of the year, and it was really that one girl. We thought if we had a step on her, we'd be fine."
Sanderson, who took top-five finishes in both hurdles events at the state meet, was no slouch. It marked a figurative passing of the baton in the midst of literal ones, with Hamilton graduating three-fourths of its vaunted relay.
"She knew she had beaten the two-time defending champion," Nysse said. "She fist pumped a couple times and threw her hands in the air. They were gunning for us; now we're the big target. That's a good place to be, but it's also a hard (place to be)."
The foursome (Toney Lock, Ashley Holicek, Ellen Buckley and Jessica Rupnow) still delivered a superb time.
The Chargers ran into roadblocks elsewhere as well. A bad third exchange in the 4x100 led to a disqualification, and the 4x400 had to settle for fourth.
"It was one of those deals where you're not used to having every team hit the exchange zone at the same time," Nysse said of the 4x100. "You don't ever run under those circumstances all year long, and that happens. You tend to get a little jittery. She had a chance to make an exchange right at the end of the zone, and the momentum just carried them out."
Casey Allen joined Rupnow, Lock and Holicek on the 4x100 team, which ran the second-fastest qualifying time (49.12).
The 4x400 (Buckley, Ashlyn Paulson, Katie Pollari, Rupnow) ran 3:56.42 in qualifying and then took fourth in the finals at 3:57.34. Milwaukee Riverside ran a blistering 3:53.07 to win.
"You can't be too sad with a second and a fourth," Nysse said. "Obviously, our expectations were higher, but a week and a half ago, there were 80 teams at regionals. It's a good season."
The relays weren't the only point-scoring efforts from Hamilton. Shannon Burke cleared 10-6 to finish seventh in the pole vault and cap her decorated career, which included three visits to the state meet.
"You can't ask for more from these girls; they go into a state meet saying we're going to win," he said. "I think where the program was six years ago, we were happy to get there and ecstatic to get to the finals. Now we're going in with the idea that we're going to win. It's a good place to be but a hard place after (this year's state meet), because your expectations are so high. Riverside came in ranked No. 1 in the 4x400 last year and got fifth, and this year they come back to win it. It makes you appreciate what they were able to do last year, nearly running the table (in the three relays)."
Goecks just short
Hamilton golf standout Nathan Goecks ended his bid for the state tournament with an appearance at this year's WIAA Division 1 Sectional at Morningstar Golfer's Club on Wednesday, narrowly missing the WIAA state tournament by two strokes. Goecks shot 76 for the Chargers.
For the season, his stroke average for nine holes was just over 38. Austin Kendziorski was next at 41.3, and Nate Hermsen's average was 41.7. Tim Russell, in limited varsity play, averaged 43.5. Kevin Jansen averaged 44.8.
Goecks was honored by the Golf Coaches Association of Wisconsin as an Academic All-State honoree for the boys golf season.
"Nathan is a student-athlete who serves as a great example to others, proving that academic and athletic successes are not mutually exclusive," said Academic All-State committee chairman Bob Sullivan.
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