POTOSI — The Belmont softball team ran the gauntlet to claim this year’s Six Rivers West softball title.
Coach Jeff Hodgson’s Braves won four league games in four days — including narrow victories over second-place Highland and third-place Potosi — to win a fourth straight conference title.
“I am excited for the kids because of how hard it was this year, with the level of teams we had to beat and the way we had to clinch it,” said Hodgson. “No championship in professional sports would have to be won by winning four games in four days. I am just really proud of the girls.”
Belmont (19–5, 12–2 SRC) opened the week with a dominating 12–0 five-inning victory over visiting Shullsburg/Benton, then held on for a 1–0 road victory at Potosi a day later.
Junior Sadie Willborn (19–4) struck out eight and allowed one walk in a three-hit shutout, winning a pitcher’s duel with Potosi junior Jaydn Noonan.
Willborn reached on a one-out error in the top of the second, and courtesy runner Paige Johnson scored the game’s only run on McKenzie Rueter’s booming double that one-hopped the fence in centerfield.
Noonan (12–6) shut down the Braves the rest of the way, finishing with seven strikeouts and two walks and three hits allowed in seven innings.
“You had two kids who pitched all last summer and worked hard at getting better going at it,” said Hodgson of the pitcher’s duel between Willborn and Noonan. “It came down to our sophomore McKenzie Reuter getting a huge hit that bounced into the fence when we had a runner on second. That was the difference.”
Wednesday’s makeup game with visiting Highland was a pitcher’s duel until the bottom of the sixth inning. The Belmont offense finally broke loose for three runs in a key 4–1 victory that gave the Braves a one-game lead over the Cardinals (16–5, 11–3) in the conference standings and avenged an earlier loss to Highland.
The Cardinals tied the game in the top of the sixth when Madalyn Drury reached on an error and later scored on another Belmont error.
Senior Bri Ernst began Belmont’s game-winning rally with a one-out double, then scored the go-ahead run on Nikki Knebel’s RBI double.
After Reuter line out on a laser to shortstop for the second out, Caitlyn Cushman drew a walk. Callie Wiegel singled home a run, and Cushman scored on the back end of a double steal to make it 4–1.
Willborn struck out 11 without issuing a walk and allowed just the one unearned run on two hits in the complete game victory. Willborn, who was playing injured, pitched all 24 innings and allowed just two earned runs in Belmont’s four victories last week. She hyperextended her knee and tweaked her hamstring when she slipped on home plate scoring a run during the Belmont Tournament two Saturday’s ago.
“I thought our season was all over two weekends ago when she went down, but thankfully Sadie was OK,” said Hodgson. “Then to come back and allow just two earned runs in 24 innings over four games in four days just speaks to how much work she has been put in and what level she is at. She has been our workhorse all season. She did this all with a strained hamstring and a strained medal collateral tournament. We are really proud of what she’s done all season.”
Belmont clinched the outright conference title with a 13–2 win at Pecatonica last Thursday afternoon.
Knebel finished 2-for-3 and belted a grand slam in the top of the fifth inning. Willborn had three hits and junior catcher Abby Althaus finished 2-for-3 with a double.
“Never in my career have we had to play four games in four days and we had to win them all,” said Hodgson. “We played 13 innings of 1-run softball against the two best teams in the conference on back-to-back days until we finally broke through in the bottom of the sixth inning against Highland. That says a lot about this team, that they hang in there and keep battling.”
The Braves earned the top seed in its nine-team half sectional and had a first-round bye when the WIAA Division 5 regional playoffs began on Tuesday. Belmont will now host the winner of No. 8 River Ridge and No. 9 Pecatonica today at 5 p.m. With a win, the Braves will advance to host Friday’s regional final at 5 p.m.
Belmont 1, Potosi 0
(from Tuesday, May 15 @ Potosi)
Belmont 010 000 0 — 1 3 2
Potosi 000 000 0 — 0 3 2
Leading hitters — 2B — B: McKenzie Reuter.
W — Sadie Willborn (16–4, 7IP, 3H, 0R, 0ER, 8K, 0BB). L — Jaydn Noonan (11–5, 7IP, 4H, 1R, 0ER, 7K, 2BB).
Belmont 4, Highland 1
(from Wednesday, May 16 @ Belmont)
Highland 000 001 0 — 1 2 2
Belmont 001 003 x — 4 5 3
Leading hitters — B: Bri Ernst 3x3. 2B — B: Bri Ernst 2, Nikkik Knebel.
W — Sadie Willborn (18–4, 7IP, 2H, 1R, 0ER, 11K, 0BB). L — Grace Pustina (6IP, 5H, 4R, 3ER, 5K, 1BB).
Belmont 13, Pecatonica 2
(from Thursday, May 17 @ Blanchardville)
Belmont 008 14 — 13 7 0
Pecatonica 100 01 — 2 6 9
Leading hitters — Pec: Sadie Willborn 3x4. 2B — B: Willborn; Pec: . 2B — B: Willborn. HR — B: Nikki Knebel.
W — Sadie Willborn (19–4, 5IP, 6H, 2R, 2ER, 10K, 0BB). L — Ninah McKeon (5IP, 7H, 13R, 6ER, 5K, 7BB).