Softball: Cardinals' energy sends them to regional finals; Ellsworth advances after late Rice Lake error
The benches in the home dugout of "Biggs" Frey Memorial Field weren't used for sitting on Tuesday.
Instead, the Prescott Cardinals (16-9) piled their athletic bags and softball equipment onto the benches while they leaned against the metal fence, undeterred by the rain that dripped off the dugout's roof and blew onto the players' rosy-cheeked faces.
"I just feel like the energy with everybody up together is what we need right now," Cardinals' head coach Abbie Morris said. "That's always been the case, but I think it needs to be extra right now, because we're all a team and we're all here for the same reasons."
The extra energy was certainly needed in the 40-degree rain, and it set the No. 2-seeded Cardinals apart from their No. 7-seeded Fall Creek (8-12) guests as they soared to a 17-3 win in their four-inning Division 3 regional win.
The Crickets took a 3-1 lead after the first inning, but once the Cardinals got acclimated to the weather and tapped into their extra zeal in the dugout, all chances of a comeback were shut down.
Liz Rohl gave the Cardinals their second run of the game by scoring on a passed ball in the bottom of the second, and Bella Lenz tied the game at 3-3 in the following inning by taking advantage of another loose ball that passed the Crickets' catcher.
But the third inning was far from over.
The Cardinals collected 10 runs before the top of the fourth by capitalizing on the Cricket fielders' inability to perform in the inclement weather. The inning was highlighted by a Heather Hudak double that turned into an inside-the-park home run thanks to an error in center field and the Cardinals' superior base running. The Cardinals outhit the Crickets 8-2, but the biggest discrepancy came in the stolen bases. Prescott stole 10 bases while the Crickets got away with two. Lenz led the Cardinals at the plate after going 3-for-4 and stole two bases for her.
Coach Morris saw her team's patience at the plate improve as the night progressed and the cheers from the crowd grew louder.
"I think just remaining relaxed and focused on what we're doing here one batter at a time, one pitch, one out, whatever it is has really helped," Morris said.
When the Cardinals are able to remain focused while adding in laughs — like they did on Tuesday by pressuring coach Morris to wear an umbrella-shaped hat — there's little teams can do to faze them.
"I want us to come back with lots of energy right away," Morris said. "Just playing our game as always."
Tuesday's win gave the Cardinals a bid for the regional finals, which they'll host on Thursday, May 23. No. 3-seeded Altoona (19-4) defeated No. 6-seeded Neillsville (9-7) 17-7 on Tuesday, and will meet the Cardinals in Prescott for their second meeting of the season. The Cardinals defeated the Railroaders 6-5 in Altoona on Saturday, May 11, and have only lost one game at "Biggs" Frey Memorial Field this season.
Ellsworth 2, Rice Lake 1
The Ellsworth Panthers had their work cut out for them in their first Division 2 regional playoff game on Tuesday afternoon, but used a Warrior error to claim a 2-1 win and advance to the regional finals.
The No. 1-seeded Panthers (21-2) and No. 8-seeded Warriors (8-14) were tied 1-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh, but a single from Sindey Bartels and two Rice Lake errors allowed the Panthers to end things before extra innings were needed. The Panthers' go-ahead run came when Claire Kummer hit a fly ball to the Warriors' center fielder who committed the costly error and allowed Emma Swanson to score the winning run.
The Panthers outhit the Warriors 5-1, but committed just as many errors in the field as their guests in the eight-error night. Autumn Earney was the top Ellsworth batter of the day after going 2-for-3 at the plate and earning the Panthers' only RBI of the day.
Despite the low-scoring, contentious game, Ellsworth's head coach Kenzie Diercks said her players were patient and level-headed the entire game. Most importantly, their energy was contagious.
"The fans, coaches and opposing team definitely felt it," Diercks said. "It pushed them through arguable some of the most pressure-filled situations of the season, and they were able to come out on top."
Ellsworth pitcher Avery O'Neil didn't allow an earned run against the Warriors who scored their lone run of the game on a passed ball in the top of the fifth.
Ellsworth will return to their home field on Thursday, May 23, and will host the No. 3-seeded Amery Warriors (15-5) in their regional final game. Ellsworth and Amery met twice in the regular season and split their conference series.