With the Reedsburg softball team being comprised of mostly underclassmen, including a combined eight freshmen and sophomores, coach Liz Baker knew it would take time for things to click.
Everything seemed to be working Friday night for the baby Beavers.
Reedsburg pounded out 11 hits and pounced early and often en route to a 9-2 win over rival Baraboo in a Badger West Conference game at Pierce Park.
Four players had multiple hits while junior pitcher Summer Haag allowed just three hits as the Beavers punched their ticket to the league championship game over the reigning Badger West champs.
“The approach we’ve had at the beginning of the season is the same we had today, but we’re not the same team,” Baker said. “This team has learned how to work well together, get through those tough defensive outings and they’re clicking really well right now.”
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That’s especially been the case for Grace Gawronski, who helped set the tone early for the Beavers (7-9, 5-6 Badger West). Just days after capping a five-run comeback win over Mount Horeb with a walk-off two-run home run, the sophomore unloaded a two-out, three-run bomb to open things up in the first inning Friday.
After Madi Behrendt reached on a fielder’s choice and Gretchen Rockweiler singled, the righty took Baraboo starting pitcher Rachel Wieczorek deep to center field for a 4-0 lead.
“We were not really ever able to dig ourselves out of that hole,” Baraboo coach Derek Smith said of the difficult start, which began when Kylee Molitor scored on a one-out error.
Gawronski’s impressive start carried over into the field as she helped squash any sense of an early rally by the Thunderbirds (9-8, 5-7). After Taylor Pfaff drew a leadoff walk to open the home half of the first inning, Gawronski made a running catch to deny Addison Kohler of a would-be extra-base hit. She then hit Behrendt with the relay throw, who proceeded to double off Pfaff at first.
“That’s so big. As a team, being able to get good outs it definitely makes us happier and we do better as a team. It was just a special moment,” Behrendt said.
Baraboo didn’t take long to threaten again as Madee Strampe tripled over the head of Gawronski to lead off the home half of the second inning. She scored on Mackenzie Klemm’s one-out sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 4-1, but the T-Birds never got closer thanks to Haag.
The sacrifice fly was part of a stretch of 11 consecutive batters retired by the hard-throwing righty. Haag went the distance, allowing just the lone earned run on three hits and a walk with two strikeouts.
It was an impressive groove she credits to the Beavers’ rock-steady defense behind her.
“I wasn’t really worried about striking them out all the time, I just knew if they were there we’d be fine,” she said.
The offense did its part in keeping the T-Birds at bay. Reedsburg tacked on two insurance runs in the top of the fourth on a single down the third base line by Abbie Scott that many T-Birds fans argued was foul. Two innings later the Beavers blew things open with three runs in the top of the sixth, including a pair of unearned runs.
Molitor went 3-for-4 with a double while Scott, Behrendt and Ruby Olson each had a pair of hits for Reedsburg, which finishes North Division play at 4-2. The Beavers will play either Oregon or Mount Horeb in the Badger West Championship game next Friday for a chance at their first league title in over 15 years.
Baker credits her youthful side’s success to their positive mental attitude.
“We talk about having a faceless opponent, so it doesn’t matter who we’re facing, we’re preparing to have our best performance each at bat and each defensive play. The girls are there and they’re bringing it,” she said.
Meanwhile, Strampe finished with a pair of triples to lead the T-Birds, who saw their seven-game winning streak come to a close. Smith acknowledged the team’s six seniors took the loss hard as their hopes of a second straight league title were snuffed out, but he’s confident the previous hot streak can be reignited.
“They put together a nice run to get themselves back into the conference hunt and I expect they’ll bounce back,” he said. “We see brighter days ahead for them and by no means are we cashing out. We’ll push all our chips in and see where we end up at the end of the season.”