SPASH softball pulls away late to advance to Sectional Final
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The second-ranked and top-seeded Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) softball team broke open a close game late to win 6-1 over fifth-seeded Superior in a WIAA Division 1 Sectional Semifinal at Fire Pro Field at Woyak Park in Plover Tuesday, May 29.
The Panthers (27-1, 12-0) will look to avenge their only loss of the season when they host seventh-ranked and third-seeded Chippewa Falls (23-4) in a WIAA Division 1 Sectional Final at Fire Pro Field Thursday, May 31, with the winner to advance to the WIAA Division 1 State Tournament at Goodman Diamond in Madison Thursday, June 7.
“It was a gusty performance by our kids and we were able to grind it out,” said SPASH softball head coach Tom Drohner. “And we really had to.”
SPASH opened the postseason with a 14-0 win over ninth-seeded Eau Claire Memorial in a Regional Final Friday, May 25, then got off to a quick start Tuesday against Superior.
Senior center fielder and NCAA Division 1 University of Wisconsin recruit Ally Miklesh led off the bottom of the first inning with a walk and came around to score on a one-out RBI single from senior right fielder Halle Pavelski to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead, while junior third baseman Kayla Lass led off the bottom of the second inning with a single and scored on a sacrifice fly from freshman left fielder Jenna Eilers to make it 2-0.
It stayed that way until the top of the fourth inning, when Superior hit a two-out solo home run off senior pitcher and NCAA Division II Northern State University (SD) recruit Andrea Cherney to pull within 2-1.
Superior led off the top of the fifth with a single and added a bunt single to put runners on first and second with one out, when senior first baseman Maddie Fink, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, came on to pitch.
Fink got Superior to pop up to shortstop and second base in consecutive at bats to end the inning, and then worked around a one-out error in the top of the sixth to help SPASH hold on to its 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning.
There, Fink led off and belted an 0-2 pitch over the fence in center field for a solo home run to give the Panthers a 3-1 lead.
“I love hitting high balls and she gave me a really nice one on 0-2, I just swung like I know how and it happened to go over,” said Fink. “It was amazing, just smiles, and seeing my coach around third, there’s not a better feeling.”
“She had a torn ACL last year, and she was about as great of a teammate as you could imagine, for someone that had to go through what she had to go through,” said Drohner. “She sat in the dugout and did GameChanger (keeping score), she did what she needed to be a part of the team, and that was noticed by the coaching staff.
“She was almost like a coach last year on our team, and now she’s getting an opportunity after she rehabbed the heck out of it,” he said. “And I couldn’t be more proud of her and happy for her.”
Lass followed with a double off the fence in left field, and after a sacrifice bunt from senior shortstop Carly Fix, Eilers had a RBI double to make it 4-1, then Ally Miklesh came through with a RBI single, and junior second baseman and NCAA Division 1 UW-Green Bay recruit Megan Miklesh added a sacrifice fly to push the lead to 6-1.
Fink set Superior down in order in the top of the seventh to close out the 6-1 win, as she struck out two and didn’t allow a walk or hit in two and 2/3 shutout innings for the save, while she also went 2-for-3 with a home run at the plate.
Lass was 2-for-2 with a double and two runs scored, Eilers had a double and two RBI, Ally Miklesh scored two urns, and Pavelski went 2-for-4, while Cherney struck out four, walked two and allowed one earned run on five hits over four and 1/3 innings for the win.
The victory sent SPASH to the Sectional Final to face Chippewa Falls, which beat ninth-ranked and second-seeded Marshfield 7-2 in the Sectional Semifinals Tuesday and handed the Panthers their only loss of the season with a 2-1 defeat in the Championship Game of the Chi-Hi Invitational May 12, after SPASH won 5-4 at home over Chippewa Falls April 28.
The winner Thursday will advance to the WIAA Division 1 State Quarterfinals June 7 at a time to be determined, as this year’s Division 1 State Tournament will be seeded for the first time, with the top four seeds taking on a random draw opponent.
“It’s awesome knowing that we’re close, but our goal is Thursday, and that’s what we’re focusing on,” said Fink. “It’s the most important game of the season.”
“It’ll be a battle, no question about it, and it’s funny how it always seems to come down to Chi Hi and us,” said Drohner. “We beat them at their place (in the Sectional Final) last year, I’m sure that they’re going to talk a little bit about that, but I’m excited for the opportunity.
“I’m hoping that we’ll play our best softball at our place, and hopefully there will be a lot of people that come out and watch us play, because we’re a pretty fun team,” he said. “And if we can get on a roll, we can make it pretty special.”