Softball Cardinals win regional title

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton's Erin Schleusner slides into home plate with the winning run against Verona in the regional finals on May 27./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Erin Schleusner is what’s known as a “green light kid.”

That means Schleusner — Middleton’s senior center fielder — has earned the trust of manager Brittany Carl and has the “green light” to choose when to attack on the bases.

Last Friday afternoon, Schleusner picked the perfect time.

Middleton and Verona were deadlocked, 3-3, in the top of the seventh inning of their WIAA Division 1 regional final. With Schleusner on third base and one out, sophomore second baseman Mackenzie Zimmerman hit a ball that trickled just a few feet in front of home plate.

Verona catcher Ellie Osting looked Schleusner’s way, then threw down to first for the out. With the ball in the air, Schleusner headed for home and beat the throw back to Osting by a nano-second.

That run proved to be the difference in Middleton’s 4-3 win that gave the Cardinals their first regional championship since 2014.

“I saw like a little swinging bunt get down,” Schleusner said. “And I immediately read it and paused to make sure the throw was out of (Osting’s) hand. And we always practice slides, so I made sure to have a hook slide when I went into home.”

Sixth-seeded Middleton improved to 17-10 and advanced to a sectional semifinal against second-seeded Monona Grove Tuesday at 5 p.m. The third-seeded Wildcats ended the year 17-5.

Afterwards, Schleusner’s timing, decision making and perfect slide were all the buzz.

“She just had a great read,” Carl said. “She recognized that first base was holding it just a little extra time, so she just went in. Great slide, back door slide to get her hand in.”

Schleusner’s heroics capped a hold-your-breath, thrill-a-minute affair that was moved to Middleton’s Firefighters Park after Verona’s diamond took on too much water the previous day.

Cardinals freshman Megan Button hurled a gem in her first-ever postseason start and picked up the win.

Button, who missed the regional semifinals when she was sidelined with COVID, went the distance and allowed just one earned run. Button gave up seven hits, struck out five and didn’t walk a batter.

“I was nervous, but I’m nervous because I care,” Button said. “That’s my mentality. But I’m extremely happy with how things went.

“For me it’s not about strikeouts. It’s not about what I do personally. It’s about how that can help the team, getting pop outs, getting groundouts, putting the team in a good position to do well.”

Middleton put itself in a good position to succeed throughout.

The Cardinals had 10 hits off Big Eight Player of the Year Hilary Blomberg, drew a pair of walks and put pressure on Verona from start to finish.

“We say it’s better to have five good innings than one big inning,” Carl said. “So we really saw that from everybody in the order, one through nine. We put pressure on them almost every inning.”

Middleton drew first blood when it struck for a run in the first. Senior shortstop Jenna Redders doubled to open the game, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by McKenzie Pertzborn and scored on a sacrifice fly by Zimmerman.

“We really put all the pressure on their defense to make plays,” Redders said. “And I think we really hit the ball well. Being able to get those hits when we needed them … it was just great.”

Verona answered with a run in the bottom of the first to even things, 1-1. But Middleton struck for single runs in the second and fourth and built a 3-1 lead.

In the second, catcher Abby Zumbrunnen had a leadoff single to center, and one batter later, Button doubled to the gap in right center to score Zumbrunnen.

In the fourth, Zumbrunnen led off the frame with a walk. First baseman Anna Zanton — who was just called up from the JV team due to injuries — singled to right and Zumbrunnen raced to third. One batter later, Schleusner singled to left scoring Zumbrunnen and giving the Cardinals a 3-1 lead.

“It’s tough to ever be in control against a team like Verona,” Carl said. “These games are always tight. They’re a well-coached team, disciplined team. So we knew three wouldn't be enough.”

It should have been.

Middleton maintained its 3-1 lead until the bottom of the sixth. The Cardinals made two errors in that frame, though, allowing the Wildcats to score a pair of runs and tie the game, 3-3.

“After it was tied I was like, brand new ball game,” Redders said. “Zero, zero. Let’s go. I was pretty confident to be honest.

“We had nothing to lose, and coming into this game, we just wanted some hardware honestly. We’ve never gotten it and we wanted it really bad.”

Middleton went and got it with a big seventh inning.

Schleusner was hit by a pitch to open the frame, then Redders lined a single to left. Pertzborn moved the runners up with a perfect sacrifice, then Schleusner scored the game-winner when she slid to the right of Osting, but reached back with her left hand to touch home plate.

“It was close,” Schleusner said. “It was really close.”

Redders and Zimmerman were both thrown out at home on questionable calls later in the inning. So Button headed to the bottom of the seventh with the tall order of protecting a one-run lead against the top of the Wildcats’ order.

“I just tried to take a really calm approach,” Button said.

She did just that.

Button struck out speedy leadoff hitter Sierra Ejercito to leadoff the inning. She got center fielder Odalys Rivera to ground out to second for the second out.

That left Button against Blomberg, a player who’s belted 19 home runs in the last two years. Instead of intentionally walking the Wildcats’ star, Carl told Button to go right at her. And on the first pitch, Blomberg popped up to Zimmerman at second base.

“Button is just so calm, cool and collected,” Carl said. “She does not rattle easily. For her to come back, after some rest this week, she’s just calm. She’s very cerebral.

“She comes in every inning, little things she notices with each hitter and she goes into every inning with a plan. She thinks about it and she executes and that’s what makes her so effective.”

Now, Middleton heads to sectionals for the first time since these current Cardinals were in elementary school.

Middleton, which lost seven seniors from its 2021 team and was picked to finish in the middle of the Big Eight Conference, believes it can continue to surprise.

“Wow. Just never having gotten hardware before it’s just an amazing feeling,” Redders said of winning a regional title. “To win with this team, all the new people coming in, we lost seven seniors last year, so we had to fill all of those positions. And getting to know all the new girls and winning with this team just feels amazing. It’s just great.”

Schleusner agreed.

“We have so much energy and are feeling good and confident,” she said. “So I feel good about ourselves and really believe we can keep this going.”


May 27

WIAA Division 1 regional final

Middleton 4, Verona 3

Middleton …………... 101 100 1 — 4 10 3

Verona …………..... 100 002 0 —   3  6  1

Pitchers (ip-h-r-er-so-bb) —M: Megan Button (W: 7-7-3-1-5-0); V: Hilary Blomberg (7-10-4-4-6-2).

Leading hitters — M: Jenna Redders 2x4; Maggie Cochrane 2x4. V: Jana Lawrence 2x3. 2B — Redders, Megan Button (M).

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