SPASH Softball set for postseason
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
After winning its 20th straight Wisconsin Valley Conference (WVC) Title, the Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) softball team will look to make run to the State Tournament.
The seventh-ranked Panthers (19-7, 10-2) closed out its run to a 20th consecutive Conference Title with a 10-0 win at Wausau East Thursday, May 16, and will open the playoffs against ninth-seeded Wausau West in a WIAA Division 1 Regional Final at 5 p.m. at Woyak Park in Plover Thursday, May 23.
“Not knowing if we were going to get the Conference Title to ourselves was a lot of pressure,” said senior second baseman Megan Miklesh. “But I think we faced adversity this season, and came out with that Conference Championship, so it’s exciting.”
“It’s pretty incredible, said SPASH softball head coach Tom Drohner, whose team has won 21 Conference Titles in the last 22 years since he and assistant coach Todd VanderLoop took over the program in 1998. “These kids were not even born yet when we started that whole thing, and our tradition just keeps feeding off itself.
“A lot of these kids had role models and people that they really looked up to in our program,” he said. “And it’s just like a cycle; it just kept going and going.”
SPASH lost four-time All-State center fielder and 2018 WVC co-Player of the Year Ally Miklesh, First Team All-WVC and Second Team All-State right fielder Halle Pavelski, First Team All-WVC and Honorable Mention All-State pitcher Andrea Cherney, Second Team All-WVC first baseman/pitcher Maddie Fink and Honorable Mention All-WVC shortstop Carly Fix from last year’s team that was ranked second in the state, when it fell 4-1 to Chippewa Falls in the Sectional Final to finish 27-2 overall.
“They were great players, and when you lose those types of players, some new people have to come up with their own identity and their own strengths,” said Drohner. “We’ve been able to do a pretty good job of it, we’ve got a nice core of seniors, but we’re also pretty young around those seniors, so they’re still learning things.
“The best is yet to come, they’re starting to figure things out, and when we can get all of those underclassmen doing what I think they can do, we could be a handful,” he said.
The Panthers have been led at the top of the order this season by a pair of All-Conference selections from a year ago in Honorable Mention All-WVC sophomore center fielder Jenna Eilers and Second Team All-WVC junior catcher and NCAA Division 1 UW-GB recruit Sammy Saloun, while junior Leah Earnest, a NCAA Division 1 Valparaiso University recruit in basketball, has taken over at shortstop.
“Eilers is leading off and has been solid all year,” said Drohner. “Sammy is one of the top catchers in the state of Wisconsin.
“And Leah is probably one of the best athletes in the state of Wisconsin, she has done a great at shortstop for us, and has hit the crud out of the ball,” he said.
Berkley Lake has emerged as SPASH’s designated hitter and cleanup hitter this season, followed by First Team All-WVC senior third baseman and NCAA Division 1 UW-GB volleyball recruit Kayla Lass, and junior pitcher Jaden Jones, who led the WVC with a 1.79 ERA.
“Berkley has been an unbelievable senior, I don’t want to say it’s a surprise, but she’s having a lot better season than even what I had expected out of her,” said Drohner. “Kayla is a three-year starter and has done a fantastic job.
“And Jaden has been our ace in the circle, she’s pitched very well for us, she added a rise ball to her repertoire, and when her changeup is working with her riseball, she’s really tough,” he said.
First Team All-WVC second baseman and NCAA Division 1 University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UW-GB) recruit Megan Miklesh also returns as a starter for the Panthers this season, while sophomore right fielder Jenna Hoerter, junior left fielder Maddie Kvatek and junior first baseman Maggie Lawrynk have also earned starting spots.
“Megan is rock solid, and a three-year starter,” said Drohner. “And some of the younger kids have really stepped up.”
Also seeing playing time this season have been senior pitcher Kristin Richter, sophomores Alyssa Standifer and Kasie Joseph, sophomore pitcher Jaelyn Slowinski, freshman first baseman/pitcher Zoe Fink, junior second baseman Kennedy VanderLoop, senior outfielders Avery Drohner and Ashley Schrank, freshman catcher Maddy Miklesh, junior Jayden Prondzinski, and sophomores Sam Huebner and Tia Livernash.
After winning 19 WVC Titles in a row, the Panthers lost 6-0 to Merrill April 9 and 5-3 at Marshfield April 25 to start this season 5-2 in the conference, while Merrill was 4-1 to lead the WVC.
The race remained tight throughout the season, as SPASH entered the final week in first place at 8-2 ahead of Marshfield (7-3), and clinched at least a share of the WVC Title outright with a 5-2 win over Wausau West Tuesday, May 14.
The Panthers officially clinched the Conference Title outright when Marshfield was beat 21-10 by Wausau West Wednesday, May 15, but looked to celebrate the championship with a win in the WVC finale at Wausau East Thursday, May 16.
Megan Miklesh went 2-for-3 with a double and home run to go along with two runs scored, Earnest was 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored, Lake went 2-for-3 with two RBI, Lass was 2-for-4 with two runs scored, and Eilers went 2-for-5, while Richter struck out six and walked three in a one-hit shutout, as SPASH won 10-0 to close out its 20th consecutive Conference Title.
“(It’s been) a lot of hard work and dedication, I think from the kids and the parents,” said coach VanderLoop. “The coaches, we get to go along for the ride, which has been awfully exciting, and fun to see what’s happened here at SPASH softball.”
The Panthers followed with a 9-0 win over Portage Friday, May 18, then split a pair of games at Kenosha Saturday, May 18, as they won 14-3 over Wilmot and fell 5-3 to Kenosha Bradford/Reuther to finish the regular season with a 19-7 record.
With a tough nonconference schedule, SPASH also has losses this season to ninth-ranked De Forest (1-0), 10th-ranked Onalaska (9-6), fourth-ranked Sun Prairie (1-0) and Division 2 top-ranked Mosinee (2-1), but still received the top seed in its Sectional, and is set to begin the postseason Thursday against Wausau West.
The winner will take on either fourth-seeded Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln or fifth-seeded Hudson in the Sectional Semifinal Tuesday, May 28, with the Sectional Final set for 5 p.m. at D.C. Everest Thursday, May 30, as the Panthers look to advance to the State Tournament for the 15th time in 20 years, after they came up one win short last season.
“That loss has always been in the back of our heads,” said Lass. “And we just want to get back to that game, and win instead of lose this time.”
“We’re going to have to get after it and hustle everywhere we go, we’re going to have to play a hard-nosed brand of softball, and we can’t relent from that,” said coach Drohner. “When we get in a little trouble is when we get a little passive, and our kids don’t all understand it.
“The older kids do, and the younger kids are still trying to figure out that there’s no time to back off playing the game hard, and I think if we collectively as a group play a hard-nosed brand of softball, where we’re sprinting everywhere we go, we’re taking extra bases and we’re playing heads up and everybody is playing the best of their role, I think that’s where we can be really good,” he said. “We’ve shown some signs of being really good, and we’ve just got to figure out how to consistently be really good.”