Undefeated Pacelli softball earns trip to State Tournament
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
For the sixth time in the last eight years, the Pacelli Catholic High School softball team is heading to the WIAA State Tournament.
The top-ranked Cardinals (25-0) used a RBI single in the bottom of the sixth inning from junior right fielder Teesa Shafranski and a two-hit shutout from junior pitcher Karah Kluck to win 1-0 over Spencer (16-5) in a WIAA Division 4 Sectional Final at Markesan Thursday, May 31, and advance to state.
Reigning State Runner-up Pacelli is set to square off with second-ranked Horicon (26-1) in the State Semifinals at 8 a.m. Friday, June 8, at Goodman Diamond in Madison, with the winner to face either fourth-ranked Weyauwega-Fremont (21-4) or Thorp (16-7) in the Division 4 State Championship Game at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, June 9.
“It means everything,” said senior catcher Paige Hintz. “The girls who are returning, which are quite a few of them, have that extra fire under our butts from last year and that loss that we faced, and that’s definitely brought extra motivation to us and it’s pushed us to work just a little bit harder.
“So we’re excited,” she said.
“People forget how hard it is to get there,” said Pacelli softball head coach Ann Molski. “There’s a lot of things that have to go your way, and it takes a little luck, and it takes just will and determination to get there.
“It’s tough, and it’s fun,” she said. “And it’s really neat that we’re getting back.”
After losing to Juda/Albany 2-1 in the State Championship Game last year, the Cardinals carried a 24-0 record into their Sectional Final against Spencer last Thursday.
Spencer led off the game with a single but didn’t have another hit until a two-out single in the top of the sixth inning, while Pacelli had five hits through the first five innings, but left a pair of runners stranded in both the bottom of the second and the bottom of third innings.
That left the game tied at 0-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, when Kluck reached on a fielder’s choice with two outs, and junior center fielder Sophie Schroeder followed with a single to put runners on first and second base.
That brought Shafranski to the plate, and she delivered a two-out RBI single to left-center field, as Kluck came around to score from second base standing up to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.
“When the ball fell in, I honestly don’t even know where I hit it,” said Shafranski. “When I came in at the end of the game, I asked the coaches and my teammates.
“I just knew I hit it, and I saw Karah score, and I was just so happy,” she said.
After Kluck got back-to-back strikeouts to open the seventh inning, Spencer hit a fly ball to right field, which Shafranski hauled in for the final out, to secure Pacelli’s trip to state with a 1-0 victory.
“It seemed like it just stayed in the air for a really long time, and I was just waiting for it to come down,” said Shafranski. “But when I caught it, I was really calm and I just felt the sense of relief, like, ‘we’re going to state.’
“And I was just so proud of our whole team for being able to string hits together, and to find a way to make it in a tough situation,” she said.
“As soon as that ball was secured in Teesa’s glove, tears just started flowing,” said Paige Hintz, who started as a freshman on Pacelli’s 2015 State Championship team. “We are so excited, and that last out was everything.
“And to go down again for the third chance, I really more than anything want to finish my career the way I started it that first year,” she said.
Schroeder went 3-for-3, and Shafranski was 2-for-3 to lead the Pacelli offense, while Kluck struck out eight and walked none in a complete-game, two-hit shutout.
“I trusted my defense behind me, and as long as our offense could get going eventually, I knew the defense would get the job done,” said Kluck, who followed her performance by competing in the triple jump at the WIAA Division 3 Track and Field State Meet last weekend. “I’m so happy for the whole team, we all work so hard, one through 19, and everyone is super excited.”
“We didn’t play our best game, but we hit the ball, and I give their pitcher kudos, because she kept us off-balance and we were not able to really get into a good rhythm and sink into anything,” said Molski. “When you’ve been scoring all of these runs and hitting (all season), it was good to put it together.
“Karah got on and Sophie moved her over with a hit, and then Teesa came up, and it was a beautiful hit in left-center, it was down right where it needed to go,” she said. “And Karah just did a really nice job and kept them off-balance.”
At state, the Cardinals will face Horicon in the postseason for the second year in a row, after Pacelli won 3-0 at then-top-ranked Horicon in the Sectional Semifinals last year.
“Horicon is a mirror of us, except they graduated more than we did,” said Molski. “But they’re going to be out for us, because we knocked them out last year.
“They were ranked No. 1 all year, and then we came and knocked them out,” she said. “They’re a good squad, and we’re going to have to play a good game, offensively and defensively to get that ‘W.’”
The Cardinals have won by the 10-run rule in 19 of their 25 games this season, and are led in the circle by sophomore pitcher Haley Raflik (14-0, 2.53 ERA) and Kluck (11-0, 0.58 ERA).
Meanwhile, Pacelli is batting .475 as a team and has scored an average of 16.3 runs per game, led by Raflik (.574 average, 52 runs scored, 16 doubles), Kluck (.552 average, four home runs, 36 RBI), Paige Hintz (.548 average, 49 runs scored, 14 doubles, five triples, 35 RBI), senior second baseman Cailin Firkus (.525 average, team-high 48 RBI), Schroeder (.513 average, 32 RBI), junior first baseman Amanda Klasinski (.457 average, 16 doubles, 41 RBI) and sophomore shortstop Madison Hintz (.435 average, 32 RBI).
“It’s so good to have a team all way though that can hit the ball,” said Firkus. “This year I have confidence in every single girl, one through nine, that we can pull a hit out and get it done.”
The winner Friday will advance to the State Championship Game to face either Reigning Division 3 State Runner-up Weyauwega-Fremont or Thorp.
The Cardinals won 9-8 at home over Weyauwega May 5 after they lost the previous three meetings between the former Central Wisconsin Conference-8 rivals, while Thorp won the Division 4 State Title in 2016 after Pacelli won it in 2015.
The Cardinals also won WIAA State Titles in 2003 and 2012, while this weekend they will look to win a WIAA State Title with an unbeaten record for the first time.
“We got second place last year, and we’re hungry for the gold,” said Kluck. “So that’s our goal, and it’s one game at a time though.
“Get past this first game and just work hard and put it all out on the field,” she said.
“We’re going to have to play a complete game,” said Molski. “We have to hit with authority and we have to hit our pitches, they’re going to have to be patient at the plate, and we’re going to play some good, solid defense.
“We’re just going to have to be really balanced to get to Saturday morning,” she said.