Almond-Bancroft softball’s season ends in playoff opener
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The Almond-Bancroft High School softball team had its late-inning rally come up short, as its season ended with a loss to Wausau Newman Catholic in a WIAA Division 5 Regional Semifinal at home Tuesday, May 21.
Ranked ninth in Division 5 in the final WisSports.net Coaches Poll of the regular season, the top-seeded Eagles rallied from a five-run deficit to put the tying run on third base with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, before eighth-seeded Newman (4-8) held on for a 10-9 win to end Almond’s season at 13-5.
“It was tough,” said Almond-Bancroft softball head coach Randy Yonke. “We beat Pacelli last week in a monumental game for the program, and we played Friday and didn’t play mentally sound ball (in a loss at Wautoma), and it kind of had a carryover to tonight.
“It was a gut check, we could’ve rolled over and quit, going down by five,” he said. “But the girls kept on fighting.”
The Eagles lost First Team All-Central Wisconsin Conference (CWC) South pitcher Cami Newby and Honorable Mention All-CWC South outfielder April Chilsen from last year’s team that finished 11-5 following a loss in the Regional Finals, and was led this season by the return of an experienced nucleus and a nine-member freshman class.
Almond was paced at the top of the batting order by the return of a pair of All-Conference selections from a year ago in Honorable Mention All-CWC South senior second baseman Michaela Stucker and Second Team All-CWC South junior shortstop Melissa Perzinski, while freshman pitcher Olivia Baumgartner moved into the lineup and hit third.
“As a freshman Michaela came in and I’ve turned her into a slapper, and with her speed on the bases, if you get her on first base on a gap shot, she’s going to score,” said Yonke. “This is Melissa’s third year starting at shortstop, and she’s been solid all year, hitting and fielding.
“Olivia throws really hard, and with her bat, she’s going to be fun to watch in the next three years,” he said.
Second Team All-CWC South junior catcher Makayla Perzinski was joined in the middle of the lineup by a pair of freshmen in pitcher Riley Stiles and third baseman Paige Turzinski, while sophomore first baseman Chloee Dernbach also returned as a starter.
“Makayla’s another three-year starter and she’s our overall leader, because she’s the hard-nosed kid who hits the ball really well, and you can’t ask for a better kid behind the plate,” said Yonke. “Riley was an All-Conference pitcher, she had the freshman come out in her once in a while, but the ceiling’s so high for both of my pitchers.
“Paige is a catcher, and for freshman, she stepped up and played a new position at third and took on a new role, and went with it,” he said. “And Chloee’s been awesome hitting the ball, she’s probably batting .600 the last three-quarters of the season.”
In the outfield, Almond used a four-player rotation that included senior left fielder Angela Rogers, senior center fielder Briana Borski and freshmen Claire Turzinski and Carlee Lamb.
“That was my main 10 that got the majority of the playing time,” said Yonke. “But I can’t ask for more from these kids. They’d climb Mount Everest if I asked them to.”
In the conference this season, Almond lost 6-1 to Tri-County April 8 and 11-1 to CWC South Champion and Division 4 fifth-ranked Pacelli Tuesday, May 14, before the Eagles bounced back with a 4-2 at home over Pacelli Thursday, May 16, to finish second in the conference with a 10-2 record.
The Eagles followed with a 7-1 loss at Wautoma in the regular-season finale Friday, May 17, and entered their playoff opener against Newman Tuesday without Baumgartner, who was out due to illness.
Newman scored a pair of runs in the top of the first inning off Stiles take a 2-0 lead, while Almond came back with single runs in the bottom of the first and second innings to tie the game at 2-2, before Dernbach hit a two-run home run in the third to give the Eagles a 4-2 lead.
“It was my first home run, and I didn’t really expect it,” said Dernbach. “I just kind of saw it, and I was still running pretty fast, and then it just went over.
“It was very emotional, very nice to finally be able to hit a home run,” she said.
Newman answered with four runs in the top of the fourth inning to take a 6-4 lead, while Stiles was forced to leave the game after she took a line drive off her head to start the fifth inning. Newman added a run off Claire Turzinski later in the inning to go up 7-4, before a RBI groundout from Lamb in the bottom of the fifth made it 7-5.
Stiles returned to the circle with one out and the bases loaded in the top of the sixth, but Newman pushed across three runs to extend its lead to 10-5, while Makayla Perzinski hit a two-run home run and Dernbach added a RBI single in the bottom of the sixth to pull Almond within 10-8.
In the bottom of the seventh, Almond had runners on first and second with one out when Stucker was called out on a close play at first, while Melissa Perzinski came through with a two-out RBI single to make it 10-9.
With the tying run on third base and the go-ahead run on first, Makayla Perzinski hit a fly ball to center field, but Newman hauled it in to pull out a 10-9 win.
“You come up with the 7-8-9 hitters (in the seventh), they knew they had to get on base for us to get the top up, and they did what we asked them to do, to get to Stucker and the Perzinski girls up to bat,” said Yonke. “But it really hurt today not having Olivia, she’s simply an offensive threat and she’s been sick for two days, and having her in the three-hole would’ve made a difference, because that’s one more huge bat.”
Stiles struck out nine, walked nine and allowed five earned runs on seven hits in five and 2/3 innings in the loss, while Dernbach was 3-for-4 with a double, home run and three RBI to lead a 13-hit attack for Almond.
Stucker also went 3-for-5, Melissa Perzinski was 2-for-4, Makayla Perzinski had a home run and two RBI, Claire Turzinski was 2-for-4, and Stiles added a triple in the season-ending loss for the Eagles.
“We’re a very young team,” said Makayla Perzinski. “The seniors this year, they really pulled through for us, they were a big asset to the team.
“But we have a lot of young players, and I think next year we can be successful too,” she said. “We had big wins this year that we were really proud of ourselves for within conference, and it was a good season, despite how it ended.”
“I’m going to miss the seniors,” said Yonke. “But there’s a very bright future in Almond softball, the enthusiasm level’s high and they’re willing to do what they’re asked to do.
“Probably the biggest thing that I’m going to remember the most about this team is their work ethic and the willingness to accept challenges,” he said. “We’ll learn from this experience today and from the season, and hope to come back next year better and stronger.”