After a great regular season and a couple of great regional and sectional games we had to figure out how to navigate the journey to Waukesha’s Saratoga Complex where three unbeaten teams would be there to all shoot for the gold trophy, Luxemburg-Casco, Prescott and Greendale.
We were the only team with a loss. That loss however, was against a great team from Illinois and we had split a twinbill with them on their home field in New Lenox, Illinois. Our semi-final opponent was going to be Luxemburg-Casco. I had no scouting report on any of those teams and I would not be able to watch the other two play as they would be playing at the same time we were going to be playing.
Earlier this spring I wrote a piece about the three state tournament venues to this date. The first was at Olbrich Park in Madison for the first year in 1976 then the move to a four-diamond complex with grass infields and more obstacles caused by the complex itself. We had less than a week to make a wide range of arrangements. Those included things such as designing a T-shirt, taking orders for the shirts and then figuring out how to distribute them and get them paid for. It was our first trip to the Final Four so a community wide pep rally two nights before the semi-final would be the day. We decided to distribute and collect the money for the shirts prior to the pep rally. That way we figured we would have a nice crowd to send the girls off to put a gold state championship trophy in the school’s trophy case.
I decided that we ought to honor all the players who had played in the program since 1979. We’d won a mess of conference titles throughout the years not to mention some regional titles. We’d been the sectional and lost too many times so we decided to dedicate this Final Four, no matter the outcome to all the girls we’d had before. I unloaded the trophy case of softball trophies and arranged them in a particular scheme on a table in the center jump ball circle on the game floor. The arrangement looked great. For added incentive for the players I left one pedestal empty with a question mark on it so as to ask -- will you put one on this pedestal? We practiced an entry after practice that day so the players would not be confused at the pep rally. . After all, you should never try something you have never practiced and expect it to go well. There was a particular order that they would walk in from and they all needed a flashlight. The girls entered the gym from a side door, walked under the bleachers in the dark with the aid of their flashlights. As they reached the game floor their name and number were announced. Every other player went either left or right. When they were set up in a small arc the table was the centerpiece. After they were all introduced we turned the lights on and had the pep rally. It included a former cheerleader from the early 60s in her letter sweater. It was a great night and a great way to get the thing going.
The next day loaded up the school vehicles and headed for Waukesha. The Division 1 quarter-finals were being played that morning and I wanted the girls to be able to see the complex. We would be practicing later in the afternoon and would be going over all the things we needed to do to beat the facility before we ever saw a pitch thrown. All of those special considerations were covered in the previous story mentioned here-to-fore. You can read all that information by going elsewhere on the website and search for the story titled “From Olbrich Park to Saratoga Complex to Goodman Diamond, “I’ve Seen It All” on the site’s home page. We watched as much as we could because there were four games going on at the same time. It was a great decision to take them to the park. They could call home and tell their parents what to expect. Of course the phone calls had to be made from a pay phone -- there were no cell phones in 1998.
We left for a light lunch and some shopping. Later that afternoon found a city park with a ball field in it to practice. We could have 18 players in uniform and three coaches in the bench area. I threw batting practice to all 18 players because I wanted them all to have the same experiences. After a good but short practice we went for dinner at Fuddruckers. It was a great dinner. We then just spent the rest of the evening at the Country Inn & Suites Hotel west of Waukesha. Some of the girls used the swimming pool and others just chatted in an attempt to enjoy themselves and not be nervous. We had a time set up whereby the girls would be required to be in their rooms with their doors locked. Once we had them secured the rooms the coaches, spouses and some friends sat around the pool and chatted about a wide variety of things. We turned in and not long after doing so there was a knock on our hotel room door.
I answered the door to find a friend whom I’d met through my great friend Howie Wiese. Pat was there to chat about softball so I closed the door behind me, sat down on the hallway floor next to Pat and we talked fastpitch. He’d been the coach of a team several of our players had played on so he knew them. Erin, Tracie and Kelly had been players on that team. However, Pat knew a lot about the Greendale players. He talked a lot about them because they were really good. I’d been around the ball yards enough to know that it is always possible to get information if you ask just a few questions and let the other person do the talking. Through the course of the next hour or so I knew a lot more about Greendale than I had when I had locked the door to my room to turn in.
As I went to bed I was thinking that it was good to have some information on Greendale but it was going to be a mute point if we didn’t win the semi-final in the morning against a great Luxemburg-Casco outfit. I still knew nothing about those Spartans. I’d have to do just as I had as a player throughout my playing days and as a coach at Poynette since 1980. I had made up my mind after the sectional win that Kelly Wiese would pitch the first game. She’d earned that shot. You can’t win the title unless you win the semi-final.
We arose in the morning and went for breakfast early as we played at 9:00 am. There had been a heavy dew during the night. That really made me nervous because that infield grass was going to be wet. I was hoping that our practice on wet grass back home would pay off that morning.
We arrived at the park and got organized. The girls did their usual stuff which amounted to no more than changing into their cleats and playing catch to loosen up. I was not much of one to spend a lot of time exercising a lot before a softball game. They’re young kids and loosen in a hurry.
We watched the other three teams warming up and watched Luxemburg-Casco take their round of pregame fielding on the diamond and outfield. They looked pretty good to me but we’d seen other teams that season that were good. I thought we’d compete with them.
We met at home plate for the umpire/coach and captains meeting and lost the coin flip. I like to bat first to be honest with you. Scoring in the top of the first in a big game can put a load on a team. I thought we could score right away as long as our nerves had settled. The top of our order was pretty dynamic with gutsy left handed lead off hitter in our shortstop Amanda Knuteson. She was a player! We had a two-time all state second sacker batting second in Erin Barnharst and one of the top clutch hitters to this day in the three hole in Ellen Howard. Our clean up hitter was a kid that had moved to the Poynette school district as a freshman and came out for softball with no previous coaching. She was more than raw. She worked and worked and got so good that she was in the state tournament batting cleanup on a team with only one loss. In the five spot we had a great contact hitter in our catcher Darcy Tompkins who had a competitive fire that was never a flickering flame. Her’s was a bright, hot blue. She was a good bunter as well and had a great eye for whatever any game’s strike zone was. Our “buried player” in the lineup was our sixth hitter. Tiffany Krigbaum had really come on once the tournament series had started. I felt she might be a sleeper in that six hole. Erin Moll was a good player who moved the ball pretty well and was a good bunter to boot. Another sleeper waiting to be a difference maker was in the eighth spot. A lefty who struggled to hit high pitches early in her career had learned to stay off that stuff until she needed to foul ‘em off and get another pitch throughout her days but by this time in Waukesha could now move those high pitches. She was a great eight spot batter. Rounding out the order in the night spot was another Krigbaum, this one a senior named Leslie. She was a lefty, could burn and had a great eye. She scored lots of runs ahead of the top of the order.
That grass was heavy laden with dew when the game started. Knuteson led off against L-C’s Jamie Daul and went down looking. I thought back to my baseball playing days at LaCrosse State University when we were taught that if major league baseball when the first batter of the game strikes out the visitors win more games than they lose. Amanda had gotten a couple good cuts in before getting rung up. A pop out to first and a hot liner that had double written all over it off Howard’s bat was snared on a great play by their second sacker Kristin Englebert. Three up and three down were we.
The roof caved in on us in the bottom of the first. The first batter hit a ball to the shortstop where it was booted. It was now a bunt situation and L-C played the game correctly. Daul laid down a nice one but Tiffany Krigbaum’s throw to first was wild do to the dew. It rolled into foul territory and Karman picked it up and rifled a throw to third. The ball had gotten into the wet grass and got away from Karman and past Kribaum a third, scoring Jill Shefchik who had reached first to open the game. Sara Reckelberg then hit a fly ball to left field but that was dropped allowing the courtesy runner. Rachel Dax in for Daul to score making it 2-0 with no outs. Carrie Dufek hit a come-backer to Wiese in the circle which caught Reckelberg in a rundown but Wiese threw wildly to third which allowed Reckelberg to score making it 3-0. There were still no outs and we had committed five errors in an inning that could have been over 1-2-3. When Wiese coaxed another fly ball to left field Leslie Krigbaum made the catch and threw home but the throw was late allowing Dufel to score the fourth run on the sacrifice fly. A ground out to first and a 6-3 putout ended the inning. Things didn’t look good for the Indians. We gathered next to the bench area far from home plate. Basically the message was that the game was not over. We still had at least six turns to bat.
We got after it Karma went down looking to start the second but it was a seven-pitch at bat. Catcher Darcy Tompkins walked on five pitches so we had Daul at 12 pitches after two batters. Tiffany Krigbaum had a great at bat ending with a single on the fifth pitch. A passed ball moved both runners into scoring position. Erin Moll then coaxed a seven-pitch at bat out of Daul and hit a slow roller to third. We had our contact play on so courtesy runner, Jodie Manke scored making it 4-1. First sacker Kristina Crapp stepped in working an eight-pitch at bat before lacing a single that scored Krigbaum. Leslie Krigbaum grounded out to end the inning. What most people at the game probably didn’t think about was the fact that Daul threw 31 pitches in the inning and after two innings her pitch count was 42. I felt good about that number.
Wiese threw a 13-pitch second inning facing four batters (Jenny Waldow single with one out) One of our pitching tenets has always been to retire the side with 13 pitches or less. Of course when we are at bat we want many more than 13.
The bottom of the second was where things really took shape for us. Before it began our kids listened to me remind them that we needed to be patiently aggressive. Knuteson our leadoff batter hit a ball to short that was booted and moved to second on a passed ball. Gambling on breaking things open I let Barnharst swing away which ended in a pop up to short. Howard then drew a four-pitch base on balls, Karman reached on a fielder’s choice that ended without an out being recorded. Tompkins drew her second walk and Tiffany Kribaum hit a ball to second that was errored and scored a run. Moll then came through with a sacrifice fly to 2nd and when Kristina Crapp laced her second single in as many innings we’d scored five runs to take a 7-4 lead. We forced Daul to throw another 30 pitches taking her up to 72. She would end with 128. Wiese would in with more than usual at 100.
Weise retired the side in the bottom of the third after walking the leadoff batter and watching Paul double to put some pressure on us. A pop up to Wiese and two weak ground balls to the right side ending the inning. Neither team scored in the fourth or fifth innings. Leslie Krigbaum led off the sixth for us with a single and Knuteson followed with a perfectly placed bunt single. Barnharst moved the both runners up a base and when Howard singled the bases were full. Karman then drew a walk to force in a run for an 8-4 lead. Tompkins then hit a sacrifice fly to center making it 9-4. That was the final as Wiese tossed a nifty four hitter walking two and striking out just one. We collected eight hits with seven different players getting one while Crapp led the way with two.
That win propelled us into the championship game where we would meet Greendale who had beaten Prescott in the other semi-final.
Part 3 tomorrow.
Publisher’s Note: The game would be the start of a great friendship between L-C head coach and I. We chat a lot and follow each other’s family success and more. Tom Giachino is as genuine as a man can get. He really deserves a spot in the Wisconsin Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He is an ambassador for the game as well.