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Softball: Cardinals leave Madison with empty hands, full hearts

The Prescott Cardinals softball team's 22-4 2018 season came to an end on Friday, June 8, when the Cardinals were defeated 2-1 by the Tomahawk Hatchets in the WIAA Division 3 State Tournament semifinals. The Cardinals graduate six seniors and say goodbye to two coaches, but their H.E.A.R.T of the 2018 season will carry on in the years to come. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia

Prescott pitcher Kaili Wescott turned to her shortstop Katelyn Miller when the Cardinals' season was in jeopardy on Friday, June 8, in the WIAA Division 3 Softball State Tournament semifinals.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Cardinals were tied 1-1 with the Tomahawk Hatchets who had the winning run on first base while facing only one out.

While the Hatchets made a lineup change, Wescott turned toward Miller, let out a long sigh and waited for her senior teammate to help ease the tension by putting a smile on her face before she faced Tomahawk's next batter in the circle of Goodman Diamond Field in Madison.

"In stressful situations, you just have to have fun," Miller said.

In the next at bat of the game, Miller tagged out the Hatchet's base runner at second thanks to a throw from Hope Miner behind the plate, and as always, the Prescott seniors successfully showed how finding enjoyment in the game of softball — even in the most intense circumstances — can go a long way.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, their fun on the field came to an end in the bottom of the eighth of the semifinal game when Tomahawk's Courtney Theiler hit a game-winning grounder to the diving Miller who couldn't recover the hit before Jordyn Kaminski scored the go-ahead run, giving Tomahawk the 2-1 win and a ticket to the Division 3 state championship.

There were tears, regrets and low-hanging shoulders as the Cardinal's 22-4 season came to a close in heartbreaking fashion, but as always, Prescott still showed its heart when the Friday night game ended in Tomahawk's favor.

"We're proud," Miller said. "We made it (to state). It sucks right now, but I'm proud of our team."

"I'm glad that our season ended this way," Wescott added. "It's a lot better than the years before. It's a big accomplishment for us."

The Cardinals came out with little hesitation and put up a double from junior Kiki Carey. Carey would go on to score Prescott's only run of the strong fielding game by advancing to third on a Miller sacrifice bunt, then stealing home on a wild pitch. Carey was also a force to be reckoned with in the field and completed five Tomahawk outs at second base.

The Hatchets responded right away by scoring on a Theiler single that turned into a double due to a Prescott error at center field.

The two teams proved to be evenly-matched for the remainder of the game; both recorded seven hits and one error apiece.

In the circle, though the Hatchet's final hit will stick with her for a while, Wescott recorded eight strikeouts to Tomahawk pitcher Rachel Dallman's four and forced the Hatchets to leave four runners on base by throwing strikes over home plate.

Carey, Miller and Haley Miner all recorded two hits in Prescott's seven-hit semifinal game. Kaelyn Lewis also put up a big seventh-inning leadoff hit.

The six seniors' — Miller, Haley Miner, Hope Miner, Shelby Murphy, Wescott and Sammi Zuehlsdorf — high school softball careers ended sooner than they had hoped for when they left for Madison, but the senior squad remains proud of what they've done for Prescott softball in their four years as Cardinals. Rightfully so.

The Prescott class of 2018 leaves with an 80-20 career record and with the credit for putting the Cardinals on the map of Wisconsin softball state competitors.

"They're a hard group to lose," Carey said. "They each are so vital to our team. I can't imagine playing without them, but this season and making it to state will just serve as momentum for us next year."

"The girls have put in a lot of work over four years," assistant coach Bill Pryor said. "You have to be proud of them. They didn't come out and didn't let the moment get too big for them. They played the way they're supposed to and that's all you can ask. We told the girls to be proud of their season."

Friday's game was more meaningful due to it being Pryor and head coach Matt Smith's final game as members of Prescott's coaching staff.

"I'm just very proud of the way we played overall and our seniors in general and what they've done for Prescott softball," Smith said. "I can't thank the team enough for letting me be a part of it and along for the ride. It's just been an awesome experience, and I know they're going to take a lot of positive memories away from this year."

The six seniors' time as Prescott Cardinals is officially over, and that's what Smith will fixate on for the next few weeks.

"That's what ultimately stings for me," Smith said. "I can't take that feeling away, that I can't fix that, that we don't have another practice, we don't have another game, another opportunity ... but they're a great group of kids ... they're just tremendous people and I'm happy for what they have coming for them in the future."

"It made this trip to state that much more special knowing it was the seniors' last year, Smith's last year, Bill's last year," Carey said. "Next year, no matter who's our coach, we're still going to continue to build our program and take it to the next level."

Six seniors and two coaches hung up their careers as members of the Prescott softball team on Friday, but as Carey said, their H.E.A.R.T and talent has left a standard of excellence that future Cardinals teams will strive to live up to.