Top-ranked Pacelli softball falls in State Semifinals
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The top-ranked Pacelli Catholic High School softball team had its hopes for a State Title and an unbeaten season come to an end with a loss to second-ranked Horicon in the WIAA Division 4 State Semifinals at Goodman Diamond in Madison Friday, June 8.
After outscoring their opponents by a 407-50 margin this season to head into state with a 25-0 record, the Cardinals were officially charged with seven errors on defense and fell behind early.
Meanwhile, the Pacelli offense was no-hit by Horicon sophomore pitcher Allison Tillema, as the Cardinals lost 10-0 in five innings to finish 25-1 overall, while Horicon (28-1) went on to an 11-0 win over Thorp (17-8) in six innings in the State Championships Game Saturday, June 9.
“It was definitely disappointing,” said senior second baseman Cailin Firkus. “But we couldn’t expect to win a game with that many errors.
“We gave it as much as we could, and just didn’t have the outcome that we wanted,” she said.
“The biggest thing is, when you’re in this type of an environment, the team that has the errors and can’t contain them or control them, ends up losing,” said Pacelli softball head coach Ann Molski. “We counted eight errors, and you can’t have eight errors, and then we were popping up and we weren’t sticking to our game plan.
“But we had a helluva year, and there’s always a winner and a loser,” she said. “Is it easier to lose a 4-3 game, or a 10-0 game? They both hurt.”
The reigning State Runner-up Cardinals averaged 16.3 runs per game this season on their way to a 25-0 record and their third trip to state in four years, where they met Horicon in the playoffs for the second year in a row, after they won 3-0 at then-top-ranked Horicon in the Sectional Semifinals last season.
Horicon got out to an early lead in the 8 a.m. game Friday, as it led off the game with a double off Pacelli sophomore pitcher Haley Raflik and scored on a one-out RBI single to take a 1-0 lead, then scored later in the inning on a throwing error with two outs to go up 2-0.
Horicon struck again in the top of the second inning, as it used a walk, a fielder’s choice and an error to load the bases with two outs, then scored on an error on a groundball to shortstop to take a 3-0 lead, then scored two more runs on an error on a groundball to shortstop to increase its lead to 5-0.
“They got relaxed, they got loose, the pressure was off of them, and it was all on us,” said Molski of falling behind early. “And that can’t happen against good teams, to have that many errors and that many mistakes.”
Pacelli popped up five times in the infield, including four in foul territory, through the first two innings, as Firkus was its only baserunner after she drew a two-out walk in the bottom of the first inning, while Horicon scored on a two-out RBI single in the top of the third inning to push its lead to 6-0.
Junior first baseman Amanda Klasinski led off the bottom of the third inning with a walk and freshman pinch runner Sami Miller advanced to second on a wild pitch for the Cardinals, when the game was halted due a report of lighting in the distance and the threat of rain with one out in the inning.
“I thought the rain delays helped us, because we were able to regroup a little bit and talk, relax,” said Molski. “But we just weren’t able to put things together.”
After a one-hour-and-20-minute delay, Raflik drew a walk and Miller advanced to third on an errant pickoff throw to put runners on the corners with one out for All-State senior catcher and Madison College recruit Paige Hintz.
As rain started to fall, Hintz dropped down a bunt for a safety squeeze, which was fielded in front of the circle by the Horicon third baseman, who threw Hintz out at first base.
Meanwhile, Miller was gunned down at the plate on the throw from the first baseman to the catcher for an inning-ending double play.
Horicon used a one-out RBI single from Tillema in the top of the fourth inning to go up 7-0, while Tillema came all the way around to score on the play following a two-base throwing error to make it 8-0, before a second rain delay stopped the game for 31 minutes.
Horicon added two more runs in the top of the fifth inning, as it doubled and singled off junior pitcher Karah Kluck to put runners on second and third with one out, when a throwing error by the third baseman on a sacrifice bunt attempt allowed both runners to score to extend the lead to 10-0.
Tillema used a pair of groundouts and a strikeout in the bottom of the fifth inning to close out her five-inning no-hitter, as she struck out two, walked three and recorded six of the 15 outs via pop ups in foul territory in the 10-0 win.
“She was throwing some riseballs, which were awesome,” said Firkus. “They kept tricking people, and that’s what made the popups.
“We just had to get it on the ground,” she said.
“We weren’t patient enough, especially early,” said Molski. “Later we walked on her, but she’s a good pitcher.
“We knocked her out last year on the way to state, and we knew that was going to be a little extra motivation for them, and we just didn’t take care of business,” she said. “We can’t dig a hole against a good team and expect to be able to climb back.”
Raflik took the loss after she allowed four earned runs on six hits, walked two and struck out one in three and 1/3 innings, while Kluck allowed one earned run on three hits and struck out one in one and 2/3 innings.
The loss was the final game for Pacelli seniors Paige Hintz, Firkus and reserve outfielder Salena Sankey, as Hintz started as a freshman on the Cardinals’ 2015 State Championship team and Firkus has been the team’s No. 3 hitter during their last two trips to the State Tournament.
“I wanted to win it and finish where I started my freshman year, and that was obviously my goal, but it just wasn’t how it was meant to be, I guess,” said Hintz. “The coaches have been absolutely incredible, they’re just so uplifting and they push us to be our best and they really try to set us up to be as successful as possible in practice and in games.
“But winning it that first year, I’ll keep that with me forever,” she said.
“Paige has been that rock behind the plate, a four-year starter who is going to go on and play ball,” said Molski. “And we also say goodbye to Cailin, who worked really hard to get herself that starting position last year toward the end of the season and is a really good hitter, and Salena, our backup.
“But we’re a young team, so we’ve just got to decide to make this be a goal,” she said. “It hurts a little bit now, but we’ve got to make sure next March it still is there.”
The loss ended a season that saw Pacelli win the Central Wisconsin Conference South Title on its way to advancing to the State Tournament for the third time in four years, as it won 19 of its first 25 games by the 10-run rule and hit .475 as a team on the way to a 25-0 start, before the loss in the State Semifinals.
“We had an incredible season, undefeated going into state,” said Paige Hintz. “And the way we outscored our opponents throughout the year; that was pretty incredible too.
“I’ll try to remember those memories rather than this one, the way we ended,” she said. “But I’m proud of our girls.”
“We had a really good season hitting-wise, but in the playoffs we struggled a little bit,” said Molski. “We had a really great week of practice, and I’m thinking, ‘yeah, we’ve got the kinks worked out.’ But then we just weren’t able to bring it on to the field.
“A great season, we took Conference, took Regionals, Sectionals, all of that,” she said. “But right now, losing this, it hurts.”