BELMONT — Belmont has been finding ways to win all season long, so it was no surprise to head coach Jeff Hodgson that his team found a way to win Thursday’s regional finale despite not playing their best.
Senior shortstop Nikki Knebel came up with a clutch two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the third inning to erase Black Hawk’s 1–0 lead, and then senior pitcher Sadie Willborn buckled down over the final four innings by retiring the final 10 batters she faced to seal Belmont’s 3–1 victory over the Lady Warriors in a WIAA Division 5 regional championship game held at Belmont’s Bond Park Thursday.
“I’m really excited about this team because we’ve won in different ways,” said Hodgson. “Today, we were shocked a little bit early. This was not Sadie’s best day, but we found a different way to win, so hats off to us. It was the second season in a row that Belmont defeated Black Hawk in a regional final contest, and the third straight season the Braves knocked the Warriors out of the playoffs.”
Black Hawk (11–8 overall) took a 1–0 lead in the top of the second inning when catcher Maddy Huschitt walked and came around to score on a two-out Belmont error.
Top-ranked Belmont (22–1) grabbed the lead in the bottom of the third with some strong two-out at-bats of their own. After loading the bases on back-to-back two-out walks by Willborn and Peyton Johnson, the Braves jumped ahead when Knebel lined a base hit to center to plate Mackenzie Shelnutt and courtesy runner Ashley Freeman to make it 2–1. The Braves added an insurance run in the fourth inning when a two-out Black Hawk error allowed Abby Althaus to score to make it 3–1.
The Warriors had two runners in scoring position in the top of the fourth inning following a double by Macie Stauffacher. However, Willborn got out of the jam with a groundout for the final out, and then went on to retire the Warriors in order in the final three innings to seal the victory.
Willborn (22–1) gave up one unearned run on two hits and two walks over seven innings, and she finished the day with six strikeouts. Junior Hannah Butler (7–8) was solid in the circle as well for the Warriors, allowing two earned runs on three hits with two walks and two Ks in the loss.
“Sadie’s a special type of pitcher,” said Hodgson. “When everything around her is going nuts, she’s calm, or she looks that way,.
Belmont advanced to host Southwestern (16–9) in Tuesday’s D5 sectional semifinal game at Bond Park. The winner advanced to the sectional final game back at Bond Park on Thursday to face the winner of Tuesday’s semifinal affair between Randolph (14–8) and #7-ranked Oakfield (13–7). First pitch is scheduled for at 4:30 p.m.
“I think we can be the best team in the state,” added Hodgson. “It’s just a struggle to get there. It’s always like that, but that’s what makes this time of year so special.”
Last Tuesday, the top-seeded Braves took advantage of a stiff wind blowing out of the park by bashing five home runs en route to an 8-4 victory over #8-seeded Barneveld in a D5 regional semifinal contest.
Knebel drilled three of those home runs and was named last week’s Mast Water Technology SWNews4U.com Athlete of the Week for her performance. She thrust the Braves into the lead with a two-run blast in the bottom of the first inning and then adding a solo shot in the third stanza and another two-run shot in the fifth extend the lead to 6–3.
McKenzie Rueter also ripped a solo home run for the Braves in the first inning, while pinch hitter Lilly Caley clubbed a two-run home run in the sixth to make it 8–3. Knebel finished 3-for-3 at the plate with five runs batted in. Reuter also went 3-for-3 in the game, and Callie Douglas had a double for the Braves. Willborn earned the complete-game win, allowing four runs (three earned) on 10 hits and four walks with 10 strikeouts.
WIAA Division 5 regional semifinal
Belmont 8, Barneveld 4
(from Tuesday, May 21 @ Belmont)
Barneveld..100 110 1 — 4 10 1
Belmont.....301 022 x — 8 11 2
Leading hitters — Barn: Rhoades; Bel: Nikki Knebel 3x3, McKenzie Reuter 3x3. 2B — Barn: Gordon, Rhoades; Bel: Callie Douglas. HR — Barn: Leahy; Bel: Lilly Caley, Knebel 3, Reuter.
W — Sadie Willborn (21–1, 7IP, 10H, 4R, 3ER, 10K, 4BB). L — Ihm (5IP, 10H, 6R, 6ER, 3K, 1BB).
WIAA Division 5 regional final
Belmont 3, Black Hawk 1
(from Thursday, May 23 @ Belmont)
Black Hawk..010 000 0 — 1 2 1
Belmont.........002 100 x — 3 3 2
Leading hitters — 2B — Stauffacher.
W — Sadie Willborn (22–1, 7IP, 2H, 1R, 0ER, 6K, 2BB). L — Hannah Butler (6IP, 3H, 3R, 2ER, 4K, 2BB).