The 1998 WIAA Division 2 Road to the State Tournament Title Game - Part 1
We had some great memorable game stories over a week ago but sadly we ran out of volunteers willing to more. That opportunity still exists for those that would like to share their stories.
In the meantime you will be stuck reading some memorable games in my playing and coaching career. The first story will recap the 1998 tournament series which saw the then Poynette Indians get to the title game.
It was a memorable season. Yet it took place a year after I thought we had a chance to get to the title game and win it all. That didn’t happen in 1997 though as our team was nipped by Waunakee in the regional final on their home field. There was not seeding in those days. Rather one person on the executive staff of the WIAA did the regional groupings in every sport in those days. I know that to be the truth but that’s part of another story for a later date.
After losing that 1997 regional final we also graduated three key players including an all state catcher and an excellent third sacker as well as the first sacker. We brought back both pitchers though and the off-season in between had allowed both to work on their stuff and improve. We were ready to get after it in 1998.
We had won three straight conference championships in a row in ‘95-’96 and ‘97 and felt we could put together a string of at least five or six and maybe more. We had made it to the sectional in 96 beating defending champion Wisconsin Dells coached by my great friend and now WFSCA Hall of Fame member Dale Gray. In those days to win the sectional you had to win two games back-to-back om the same day. I don’t even remember who both of the other sectional semi-finalist were but one was Richland Center and they advanced to the sectional title to take us on. They were solid with an excellent pitcher in Amy Dalberg, a dynamite second sacker by the name of Emily Elliott who has been for quite a few years the head coach at Arrowhead High School in Hartland. The long. We had a 1-0 lead in a pitcher’s duel between our Kelly Wiese and Dalberg. In the end they nipped us 2-1 with a pair of markers in the bottom of the sixth. They did it in great fastpitch fashion. Their number five batter led off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by catcher Laura Anderson. Pinch hitter Heather Kohlstedt singled to tie the game one batter before right fielder Bri Fish singled in the eventual game winner. Our only hit was a triple by our second sacker Erin Barnharst who was retired at the plate on a squeeze attempt. That ended that season but we learned a lesson in defeat that has enabled us to win games from then on that we may not have without that lesson.
Skip ahead to the 1998 season. We started with a win over Lakeside Lutheran. We had a pair of pitchers that were going to be sharing time in the circle. They were Kelly Wiese and Jessie Clark. On the first day of practice everyone in the program talked about goals for the season. They settled on another conference championship, a regional title, sectional title and a state title. After they verbally agreed that was what they wanted to do I told them this would be the final time we’d talk about those goals. We were all in agreement on what we all wanted to do so it was time to start looking for better from everyone. I told them what my grandfather always told me as a young lad, “Talks cheap, it takes money to buy whiskey.” Of course they laughed but they understood. Talking about reaching those goals should not be necessary after the first day of practice. From that point on it’s about work, holding each other to a higher standard, helping each other out when someone was in need. We talked about getting “on the right track” the moment that first meeting ended and the work started. We rallied around “The Eye of the Tiger” and four leaf clovers. We still do. Our kids can find those things in bunches. Ever since 98 it’s always a pre-game ritual, searching for those four leaf plants. Love, Hope, Faith and Luck are what each leaf represents. I explained the distinction between hope and faith. “Hope is not a plan,” I told them. We have a plan and faith is what we will need to see it to fruition.”
We had a great coaching staff to help them along the way. Mary Larsen had been with the program since the 1981 season and had two daughters that had played for us along the way. Our 8th/9th grade coach was Julie Cross who was as organized as Mary was. She also had two daughters in the program including a senior infielder. Ron Jordak had come on as a volunteer about that time and has a daughter who would later lead us to a state runner-up finish in ‘03 and a state title in ‘05. Each of them had some great strengths that allowed me to do some teaching to everyone, the players and the assistants. My son Eric was a student coach for us and took our team to an even higher level. He played baseball as a freshman but never really enjoyed that bat and ball sport. As a sophomore he asked if he could help coach. I put him totally in charge of our outfielders. He was a perfect fit. He was their age, he understood the game as he had been around it since birth. He nudged and pushed those outfielders every day. He was using one of our Ultimate Fungo rackets and hitting them more balls than anyone with a bat could ever do. He also would scout for us. He sees the little things in games he watches that make a difference. About that time some people were posting their game results and statistics on a new venue -- the internet. He followed nearly every team no matter the division of play.
We started the season out with a scrimmage and opened with a win over Lakeside Lutheran. We then ran off a string of 14 more wins before taking a road trip to New Lenox, IL for a twinbill with Providence Catholic which by the way, is the high school that UW-Madison head softball coach Yvette Healy played at. The coach was a great guy as well. It was our third year of taking that Saturday trip. We had never beaten them up to that point. They had an enrollment of right around 1,000. Their catcher, Gina Ramachi remains one of the greatest high school catchers I have ever coached against. Riding a 15-game winning streak meant nothing on that day. We knew we were in for a challenge. That’s why we went there. We will play anybody on any day anywhere. In the first game they ended the string of wins with a 5-0 victory. In game two we scored a run in the top of the seventh and held on for a 4-3 win.
We finished the regular season at 17-1 and moved on to the tournament series. We were in the same regional grouping that included some good teams in Waunakee, McFarland, Lodi. There was not seeding in those days. Our first game was to be Waunakee. It was Waunakee that bumped us out the year before with that come-from-behind win in the regional final. I vowed that by the time we met them in the first game of the tournament that I would know more about them than they knew about themselves. I personally scouted them in 8 games and had men’s fastpitch friends of mine scout them at four other games. The game was scheduled to be played on our home field. Our kids were itching to get to work. We sent Kelly Wiese to the circle. She allowed a leadoff single to their fine shortstop Nicole Miller and she was moved to second on a bunt. Wiese struck out the next batter and coaxed a pop up to second to retire the side. In the bottom of the first our dynamite shortstop, Amanda Knuteson led off with a single. Going into the game I felt we could handle them and instead of sacrificing an out, I sent her on a steal. She was thrown out. A walk to Erin Barnharst followed and she did swipe second. After a flyout, our Most Improved Player in the now 42 history of the program, Amy Karman batting cleanup, singled in the run. It would be the only one we would need as Wiese settled in and tossed a nifty three hit shutout (2 by Miller). The top of the fifth inning ended with a play everyone watching probably remembers. Wiese walked the #9 batter with two down and a 9-0 lead. Miller stepped in and ripped a Wiese offering to the fence in right center. The runner at first rounded third and was headed for home when centerfielder Ellen Howard’s throw to the cutoff kid playing second base was the way we had practiced it many times. Barnharst set up perfectly, caught the ball in mid air after crow-hopping and twisting to her left. She landed and uncorked a rocket to catcher Darcy Tompkins who tagged the would-be scorer out to end the. In the bottom of the fifth Ellen Howard ended it with a home run causing the outfielder to topple over the orange, plastic outfield fence.
The next opponent was also a familiar foe in the McFarland Spartans coached by former mens’ standout Steve Schmikla. The two of us had become good friends over the years. It was always a battle when the two teams met. We sent Wiese back to the circle. We scored a run in the third when Barnharst walked, stole second and scored on Karman’s double. That one run would have been all Wiese would have needed as she tossed another shut-out allowing just two hits. An eight-run sixth salted the win away.
The regional final was next. It was at the Lodi Fairgrounds. The Blue Devils were a good team with a good kid in the circle in Laurel Wipperfurth. We were looking for that third win against a conference opponent. It was my birthday to top it off. We scored two unearned in the top of the first with just one hit and three errors, Jessie Clark got the ball to start this one out. She sailed through the first three innings, striking out eight of the nine outs. Lodi rallied in the fourth. After the first batter went down 3-U an error occured at second base. Wipperfurth followed with a double. Clean up hitter Kristen Kuehn stepped and laced a Clark offering to the fence in left center scoring Stacy Karls. A ground ball to second was slow enough for us to give up the run for the second out. We were now trailing 3-2. We rallied behind those four-leaf clovers as Knuteson took a Wipperfurth offering on the body. Barnharst moved her to second where she represented the tying run. Howard then reached on an infield single sending Knuteson to third. Howard then stole second base. After a strikeout to our clean up hitter, catcher Darcy Tompkins drew a base on balls. Jodie Manke went in to run for her. The bricks were now full of Indians. Playing a hunch, I inserted Tiffany Krigbaum, a sophomore lefty in to bat. The count quickly went to 1-2 On the next pitch she took a Wipperfurth offering on the outside of the plate right down the left field line, just fair and emptied the bags for a three-run double. It suddenly was 6-3 and the wind had just stopped blowing on the Blue Devils’sails. Clark walked the number eight batter to open the bottom of the fifth. We made a pitching change, bringing Wiese in to get us out of the inning unscathed. That didn’t go totally as planned though. After a liner to first and a strikeout there was a runner at second on a stolen base. The number two batter, Kutz singled to score the fourth run. It was then 6-4 with two innings yet to play. We went down in order in the sixth. Lodi saw Koehn single to open the inning. Things appeared to be tightening up. Weise struck Brown out for the first out. The next batter had what would wind up being an eight-pitch at bat but in the midst of a walk and five foul balls,Lodi went for broke, sending Koehn for second base on a steal attempt. Tompkins cut her down trying to swipe second when down by three. There were then two down. Clemmens singled on that eighth pitch. They would have had the tying run on base with one out. Wiese settled and ended Lodi’s upset bid by getting a pop up to second.
During the post-game chat I told the team what I had learned a couple decades earlier. “A good team, that during the heat of battle gets stunned and then wins, usually becomes a dangerous team for anyone thereafter to play. "That could be us." It would prove to be true. I can go back to that game and in ‘98 where the “Eye Of The Tiger” appeared on every Poynette player and coach’s face. Perhaps it had something to do with the four leaf clovers as well. They rallied after I told them when we fell behind, “This game is not over. If there is even one player, one coach or even a manager that thinks this game is already over then it over and our season is too, we might just as well forfeit right now. If we all believe and rally, we will win this one and move on.” Seriously, nothing was said in the bench area right after that statement. It had become all business. I have used that same 1998 statement many times since that night including in Boscobel during last season’s sectional final against Dodgeville. I said it in 2018 when Westfield tied us in the seventh. We won both those games en route to our fourth and fifth state titles.
Next up was the sectional semi-final. All four teams were in Poynette that day. Dodgeville took on Wisconsin Dells in one semi-final while we took on a very strong Viroqua team coached by Brad Brogley who would later become head coach at Plymouth. I had not personally gotten a chance to see Viroqua play. I had been watching Waunakee the entire year. Instead I relied once again on some of my former mens’ fastpitch players to help me out. Using my radar gun they were able to get pitching speeds of both Viroqua’s pitcher and that of their opponent in the regional final. By comparing how the Viroqua hitters did against the pitcher they faced in the regional final to how fast my two pitchers could throw I set up a game plan for the sectional. I chose to go with Kelly Wiese against Viroqua. I felt she could move it around and use her C and C to our advantage - Command and Control. To people in the know, it’s common knowledge that in most games the winning team scores more runs in one inning than the losers do in the entire game. The tendency proved true in this game. We scored three unanswered runs in the third inning. Kristina, our number eight batter, led off with s single and moved to second on a well placed sacrifice bunt by outfielder Leslie Krigbaum ( Tiffany’s cousin). That brought the top of our order to the plate. Knuteson took a full count pitch to right center for a single that scored the first run. Barnharst then doubled in Knuteson and moved to third on a passed ball. She then scored on a slow roller to third that retired Howard who got the rbi. Wiese scattered five hits and struck out five while walking none in another shutout to get the win. It was a masterful job by a kid who once told me she played T-ball and hated it and never wanted to play softball.
Wisconsin Dells toppled Dodgeville 6-1 in the other semi-final and moved over to the main diamond at Diamonds of Champions to take us on. The weather had taken a turn for the worse and it looked like it would rain soon. The umpires wanted to get the game going and they did in a light but steady rain. We lost the toss but scored four runs in the top of the first inning on just two hits. The wet balls were causing problems for the pitcher. We headed out for the bottom of the first with fireballing Jessie Clark in the circle. She walked the first batter of the inning. I called time out and strolled out to the circle. She told me she could not hang onto the ball so we decided to bring Kelly in after just one batter and a four-run lead. Before she could throw a pitch it rained harder and the game was suspended. The following day that lead off walk scored to make it 4-1. In the second we scored three more to make it 7-1. Barnharst walked, Howard moved her to second with a nice bunt that turned into a bunt single. A double steal put both runners in scoring position. A double by Tompkins sent them both home. Tiffany Krigbaum then hit a bloop double so we had runners on second and third. Back-to-back singles by the Dells, a sacrifice and a run scoring ground out made it 7-2. In the bottom of the third the Dells got two more but Wiese, who remained in the game due to the fact that in those days a substitute could not reenter. If we had taken Wiese out and Clark were to get into trouble or injured, our goose would probably have been cooked. With today’s substitution rules Clark would have re-entered in the circle when the game resumed the following day. We scored two more in the fourth with one coming on a perfectly executed squeeze play that saw Michelle Cross safe at first as her bunt was unplayable for the Chiefs. The final was 12-4. Tiffany Krigbaum, the star in Lodi during the regional final went 4x4 with a double, triple and five RBI. Howard was 4x5 and scored three times. Cross would drive in three runs. Wiese would allow six hits, walked two and struck out six. That win sent us on to the state tournament where we would face unbeaten Luxemburg-Casco in the semi-final. We were 22-1 while the other three teams, Prescott, Greendale and Luxemburg-Casco were all unbeaten. We didn’t feel like underdogs though. We were on a roll.
The rest of this story will be posted tomorrow as Part 2.
Publisher’s Note: A couple of weeks ago or probably the first week of self quarantine I posted an article about the first time I ever walked into the Saratoga Complex in Waukesha. If you missed that story or are visiting this site for the first time go back and look for a headline of From Olbrich Park To Saratoga Complex to Goodman Diamond, I've Seen It All