SPASH softball wins 19th consecutive Conference Title
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) softball team continued its run through the Wisconsin Valley Conference (WVC) this season, as it 10-run ruled D.C. Everest at Fire Pro Field in Plover Tuesday, May 15, to win its 19th consecutive Conference Title outright.
Coming off their first loss of the season, the second-ranked Panthers (22-1) broke open a 0-0 game with five runs each in the bottom of the third and fourth innings on their way to an 11-1 win in five innings to improve to 11-0 in the WVC heading into their conference finale at home against Wausau East Thursday, May 17.
“It’s a great feeling to know I went through my four years of SPASH softball, a Conference Champion in all of them,” said senior right fielder Halle Pavelski. “And it’s awesome just to be a part of such a great tradition.
“I’m really excited that we won conference, because it’s definitely one of our goals,” she said. “But we have more that we want to accomplish, and this is just the first step.”
“There’s been a lot of hard work and dedication by a whole lot of people,” said SPASH softball head coach Tom Drohner. “All of the SPASH softball families, coaches, dads, moms, our coaching staff, and the players, obviously.
“Our tradition just keeps building off the past and that’s really what we wanted, we wanted to be a well-oiled machine year in and year out, and no matter what players we have out there, we’ve got quality players that want to carry on the SPASH tradition,” he said. “I’m super proud of the tradition of SPASH softball and I love the direction we still continue to go in, and I’m excited for our future.”
After winning its first 18 games of the season, SPASH took over the top spot in Division 1 in the Wisconsin Softball Coaches Association/WisSports.net Coaches Poll last week, then clinched a share of the WVC Title at Merrill Thursday, May 10, as the Panthers trailed 3-2 in the top of the fifth inning when Pavelski hit a two-run home run to provide the difference in the 4-3 win.
SPASH ran its win streak to 22 games to open the season as it advanced to the Championship Game of the Chi-Hi Invitational against host team Chippewa Falls Saturday, May 12, where Chippewa Falls hit a two-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning to erase a 1-0 deficit and held on to win 2-1 to hand the Panthers their first loss of the season.
“That loss last weekend really showed us that we’re not invincible and that we need to work hard for our wins,” said senior center fielder and NCAA Division 1 University of Wisconsin recruit Ally Miklesh. “We need to come together and show our grit.”
SPASH looked to bounce back Tuesday with a chance to claim the WVC Title outright against D.C. Everest, as the game remained tied at 0-0 heading into the bottom of the third inning, when the Panthers scored on an error, a two-run single from senior first baseman Maddie Fink and a two-run single from senior shortstop Carly Fix to take a 5-0 lead.
Following a fourth consecutive shutout inning from senior pitcher and NCAA Division II Northern State University (S.D.) recruit Andrea Cherney in the top of the fourth, Pavelski and Cherney had back-to-back RBI doubles in the bottom of the fourth to make it 7-0, and after sophomore pinch runner Leah Earnest scored on an error, junior third baseman Kayla Lass belted a two-run home run to give SPASH a 10-0 lead.
“We did a good job of being patient,” said Drohner. “We went through the lineup one time and we were able to make some adjustments, and when we got through that second time, we started to strike the ball a little bit better.
“We were looking for pitches we can drive and we were able to do that and put some runs on the board,” he said.
Everest scored on a RBI single in the top of the fifth to make it 10-1, but junior right fielder Avery Drohner delivered a one-out RBI single in the bottom of the fifth inning to score sophomore Jaden Jones and allow the Panthers to walk off with an 11-1 victory to clinch their 19th consecutive Conference Title outright.
“It means so much,” said Ally Miklesh. “I’m so excited to be a part of this legacy, I’ve been a part of it for four years now and every year it’s just a new and exciting feeling.
“And sealing conference is awesome,” she said.
Cherney went 2-for-3 with a double at the plate, while she also struck out three, walked none and allowed one earned run on five hits over five innings to pick up the win on her 18th birthday.
“It’s a nice birthday gift,” said Cherney. “It feels really good to obviously get that 19th Conference Championship, and to put a statement on D.C. Everest, one of our big-time rivals in the conference.”
Meanwhile, Lass went 2-for-2 with a double, home run, two runs scored and two RBI; Pavelski was 2-for-3 with a double and two runs scored; Ally Miklesh went 2-for-4; Fink had two RBI and two runs scored; and Fix added two RBI to lead a 14-hit attack for SPASH.
For the season, the Panthers have a .417 batting average as a team, with six starters hitting over .400, led by Ally Miklesh (.577 batting average, state-best 53 hits, 20-for-20 on stolen bases), Pavelski (.445 average, third in state with seven home runs, team-high 38 runs scored, 29 RBI), Cherney (.444, three home runs, 21 RBI), sophomore catcher Sammy Saloun (.429 average, 29 RBI), Fink (.411 average) and Lass (.409, six home runs, team-high 30 RBI).
“We hit the ball pretty well, we went through a little bit of a two-game slump (last Saturday) and then it kind of got into this game a little bit, but it’s a matter of time,” said coach Drohner. “We have just have too many good hitters that can square up the ball, one through nine in our lineup that can get the job done.
“And when you have hitters like that, it wears the opposing pitchers down, because they can never take a batter off, and there are no easy outs,” he said.
SPASH is set to take on Wausau East (0-11 in WVC) at Fire Pro Field at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, and then close the regular season at home against Division 1 Honorable Mention Slinger (17-1) Friday, May 18.
The WIAA Division 1 Playoffs start with the Regional Semifinals Wednesday, May 23, with the Regional Final Friday, May 25, and the Sectional Semifinal Tuesday, May 29.
The Sectional Final will be held at Fire Pro Field Thursday, May 31, with the Panthers in a Sectional that also includes ninth-ranked Marshfield and 10th-ranked Chippewa Falls, as they have their sights set on reaching the State Tournament for the eighth time in nine years, after they won the 2016 State Title and lost in the State Semifinals last year.
“It’s kind of scary that it’s the final stretch of your high school career,” said Cherney. “But I’m very excited because I realize now what it’s like to be a senior, and to want it more than anything.
“To win that State Championship and put a statement on your last year here,” she said.
“I want us to get that killer mentality, where we get a team down and we keep the pressure on them,” said coach Drohner. “I don’t want to let up, I want us to just keep hammering, have great at bats all the way through and be playing our best softball.
“We’re not there yet, we’ve got some games and maybe the way this thing all is going to work out for us is that we’re going to be playing our best softball when we get down to the State Tournament,” he said. “That’s always been my goal, and our kids really are buying into what we need to do.”