A fascinating study in contrasts developed during the WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal softball game between West Allis Hale and Sussex Hamilton on Monday evening.
The Huskies entered the game with a powerful lineup led by Rachel Seefeldt and Sarah Mueller, who had combined for 22 home runs and 83 runs batted in this season.
The Chargers countered with their version of ‘smallball,’ featuring plenty of bunting and aggressive baserunning.
In this game at least, the BB guns got the best of the big guns, as Hamilton prevailed, 6-4.
The Chargers advanced to sectional play today, while the Huskies finished their strong season at 17-7, the second consecutive year they have notched 17 victories.
“It was a great season,” Hale head coach Kay Nichols said. “It was better than a lot of people thought it would be.”
The season was ended, though, by the Chargers, who actually caught the Huskies off guard with their approach.
“They definitely executed with their ‘smallball,’” Nichols said. “That’s something we haven’t seen a lot this season, and our girls weren’t prepared for it. They weren’t ready. His (Hamilton coach Jim Lawinger) strategy worked well, and it definitely put the pressure on us.”
Nichols said the Chargers had not played that type of game in either of the teams’ two meetings this season, both won by Hale, 6-3 and 4-1.
“He’s bunted in the past, but he really stepped it up today,” Nichols said. “I give him credit for coming with an aggressive strategy.”
Lawinger said, “In the big games, you’ve got to get the job done. We’ve got to put pressure on the defense, we’ve got to hit the ball and we’ve got to make the plays.”
The Huskies tried to put pressure on Hamilton in the first two innings with leadoff hits. In the first, Tyler Jeschke doubled, but she was thrown out at third base on a fielder’s choice grounder. Jenny Schmidt started the second with a single to leftfield and was bunted to second, but Hamilton starter Sydney Sprinkel struck out the next two hitters.
The Chargers got on the board in the third when Whitney Wnuk walked, went all the way to third on a bunt and then came home on a squeeze bunt from Katie Weber.
They added three in the fourth on just one hit, scoring on a fielder’s choice, wild pitch and another squeeze bunt from Emily Jansen.
Trailing 4-0, the Huskies finally came to life in their half of the fourth. Seefeldt and Mueller both singled, with Seefeldt coming home on an error. With the bases loaded and two outs, Teara Morgenroth lined a two-run single to rightfield to bring Hale within 4-3.
Hamilton wasted a two-out double by Jenny Shernell in the fifth when Hale starter Mueller struck out Taylor Vigani after falling behind 3-0 in the count.
Seefeldt then blasted a pitch over the rightfield fence to tie the game at 4-4 in the fifth. Mueller followed with a double but was stranded at second.
In the sixth, Sami Williams of Hamilton reached on a bunt single, stole second and came home on a two-out single by Jansen for a 5-4 lead.
Hale put the tying run on base in its half of the inning but the Chargers escaped when shortstop Shernell fielded a hard bouncer, stepped on second and threw to first for a double play.
The Chargers tallied again in the seventh when Weber hustled home on a throw after one runner was out at the plate on a squeeze bunt attempt.
Hale could not answer. Seefeldt doubled for her third hit of the day, but the game ended when Shernell nabbed a shot up the middle by Mueller.
Seefeldt and Mueller combined for five hits, but apart from the one home run by Seefeldt, the Chargers were able to keep them in the park.
“They’re probably the two best hitters in the state,” Lawinger said. “To shut them down and win it, you can’t write a better storybook finish.”