Softball Cardinals surge into sectionals

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton's girls softball team was all smiles after winning a WIAA Division 1 regional championship Friday./Photo courtesy of Craig Everson

There’s a sign inside the dugout of Middleton’s girls softball team that says, “Win every inning.” Another reads, “Flip the switch,” and is attached to an actual light switch.

Friday evening, the Cardinals obeyed, and followed both slogans to the letter of the law.

In a WIAA Division 1 regional final, top-seeded Middleton jumped on ninth-seeded Madison Memorial and never let up. The Cardinals erupted for four first inning runs, kept the pressure on throughout, and routed the visiting Spartans, 11-1, in a game stopped after six innings due to the 10-run mercy rule.

“I’m really proud how we came out of the gates and fielded the ball, hit the ball and pitched,” Middleton manager Cherie Hellenbrand said. “I’m really proud just how focused we were from the start.”

The Cardinals improved to 18-6 overall and defeated the Spartans for the third time this season. Middleton now hosts either fourth-seeded DeForest or No. 5 Holmen in a sectional semifinal Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Firefighters Park.

The sectional finals are Thursday at 5 p.m. in Waunakee. The state tournament runs June 11-13 at Goodman Diamond in Madison.

“I think we’re pretty dangerous,” said freshman Lauren Banke, who was the winning pitcher. “I think we’re pretty good and we’re on a roll right now.”

Freshman left fielder Jessica Parente, who had a game-changing three-run home run, agreed.

“People keep coming after us and it’s kind of fun to be chased,” Parente said. “Because I don’t think anyone’s going to catch us.”

The Spartans certainly couldn’t catch these Cardinals.

Banke struggled at times getting her drop curve across the plate. But Banke did a terrific job hitting her spots, moving the ball around and keeping Memorial off balance.

Banke allowed just five hits, walked one and struck out two.

“I was really happy how I hit my spots,” Banke said. “That was big for me.”

Middleton’s offense was also big.

The Cardinals exploded for four first inning runs as Memorial starter Emily Groves labored through a 42-pitch inning.

Cardinals shortstop Katie Fermanich and Banke both walked to start the game, then center fielder Rachel Everson singled to center to load the bases. First baseman Shelby Ballweg followed with an RBI single that scored Fermanich, then one batter later, both Everson and Ballweg scored on wild pitch.

Catcher Amber Karn later had an RBI single that scored right fielder Abby Henke to give the Cardinals a 4-0 lead.

“This week we were very focused and did a lot of situational hitting,” Hellenbrand said. “We put them in a lot of game-like situations … and it paid off.”

Memorial’s Isabella Curtin ripped a solo home run in the third to pull the Spartans within 4-1. But Middleton broke the game open with a five run fourth and surged to a 9-1 lead.

Henke had a one-out single to score Everson, and Karn’s RBI single plated Ballweg.

Parente then drove a Groves offering to deep center field. Initially, Parente thought she simply had a long, fly ball out. But Parente’s blast kept carrying and cleared the wall in center by at least 10-feet to give Middleton a 9-1 lead.

“I thought it was just a deep fly,” Parente said. “But it was just an amazing moment, and what made it even better was my team had my back. It was great.”

Hellenbrand, who was coaching third base, was yelling, “Go, go, go” as the ball carried. To her amazement, the ball seemingly listened.

“I knew she hit it well, but I didn't thing she hit it square,” Hellenbrand said. “Jess is a really special kid … so that was great to see.”

Banke scored in the fifth after a Memorial error to make it 10-1. And the Cardinals ended things in the sixth when Bianca Bockwinkel drove home Karn.

Just two weeks earlier, the Cardinals took an 8-0 lead against Memorial. Middleton let the Spartans hang around that night, though, and had to sweat out an 8-6 win.

On Friday, Middleton wasn’t messing around. The Cardinals most certainly flipped the switch. And Middleton won nearly every inning.

Now, the Cardinals are just two steps from state.

“I love it,” Banke said. “We’re all so excited and ready to go. I can’t wait for what’s next.”

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