BELMONT – Behind is loaded once again.
A year after a run to the WIAA Division 5 state tournament, coach Jeff Hodgson’s Braves have big goals in 2018.
Hodgson returns junior Sadie Willborn, the 2017 Six Rivers West Pitcher of the Year, along with first-team All-SRW senior second baseman Briana Ernst and honorable mention All-SRW selections in junior catcher Abby Althaus and junior shortstop Nikki Knebel.
Willborn and the Braves are off and running following a pair of shutout victories to begin the 2018 season.
Willborn struck out 10 batters and didn’t allow a walk in a four-hit 4-0 win over visiting Cuba City at Bond Park on Tuesday, March 27.
Two days later, she returned to her home pitching circle and struck out eight and allowed just two hits in a 10-0 five-inning victory over visiting Fennimore.
Willborn kept the Cubans off the scoreboard until the Braves finally broke through for runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Ernst singled to lead off the stanza and came around to score the game’s first run on a double deep to centerfield by Knebel.
Then, Callie Douglas walked, Ashley Knebel ripped a two-out single and Lilly Ruiz walked to load the bases. Pinch runner Payton Johnson scored on a wild pitch to make it 2-0, and A. Knebel and Ruiz came in on an error to extend the lead to 4-0.
Willborn had a perfect game going into the fifth inning when CC’s Kayla Stich broke up the bid with a one-out double. The Cubans stranded two runs in scoring position in the fifth inning and had runners of base in the sixth and seventh innings, but they could not come up with a run against Willborn and the Braves.
Belmont didn’t wait until the sixth inning to get on the board in Thursday’s win over Fennimore, scoring five runs in the first two innings and then adding five more in the fifth to roll to a mercy-rule victory.
Ernst went 2-for-2 with two runs scored, while Douglas went 2-for-3 with three RBI and Althaus went 2-for-3 with a run and a RBI for the Braves.
Belmont hit the road for the first time this season and suffered a hard-fought 4-2 non-conference loss to the host Dodgeville Dodgers on Monday, April 2.
Grace Borne singled and scored on a passed ball in the second inning to give the Dodgers (1-0) a 1-0 lead and snap Willborn’s 13-inning scoreless streak.
The hosts tacked on three more runs in the third on a two-run double by Audra White and a RBI-single by Ellie Argall.
Belmont struck for two runs in the fourth on a RBI-single by Althaus and a steal of home by Johnson, but that would be all the rush the Braves could muster as the Dodgers held on for a 4-2 win.
Ernst went 3-for-4 at the plate as the Braves out-hit Dodgeville, 9-5, for the game.
Belmont has upcoming non-conference games at home against Mount Horeb on Friday, April 6, and Platteville on Monday, April 9, and at Lancaster on Tuesday, April 10.
Cuba City…. 000 000 0 – 0 4 3
Belmont…… 000 004 x – 4 4 0
Leading Hitters: Briana Ernst 2x3. 2B– Nikki Knebel.
WP- Sadie Willborn. LP- Stich.
Fennimore… 000 00 – 0 2 1
Belmont…… 230 5x – 10 9 0
Leading Hitters: Briana Ernst 2x2, Callie Douglas 2x3, Abby Althaus 2x3. 2B– McKenzie Reuter, Althaus.
WP- Sadie Willborn. LP- Ferretti.
Belmont…… 000 200 0 – 2 9 1
Dodgeville… 013 000 0 – 4 5 1
Leading Hitters: Briana Ernst 3x4, Nikki Knebel 2x3, Abby Althaus 2x3.
WP- Murphy. LP- Sadie Willborn.