MADISON — Belmont’s record-setting 28-win season came to an end Thursday at the WIAA Division 5 State Softball Tournament.
Two errors in one bad innings led to four unearned runs and fourth-ranked Chippewa Falls McDonell Central Catholic held off a late Belmont rally to pull out a 5–4 semifinal win.
The Macks (22–4) went on to defeat Blair–Taylor 8–3 in Saturday’s D5 state championship game.
Belmont finished the year 28–3, setting a new program record for wins in a season.
“We only committed two errors in our first four tournament games, but then we put a couple of errors together in the third inning ,which was uncharacteristic for us,” said Belmont head coach Jeff Hodgson. “We still had a chance to get out of it with just two runs, but they came up with a couple of key two-out hits. I thought Sadie [Willborn] threw a good game Thursday, but they play a lot of softball too. They are a good team.”
Belmont scored first when sophomore catcher Abby Althaus lifted a sacrifice fly to leftfield in the top of the second inning to drive in senior outfielder Paige Nolan, who singled to lead off the inning.
McDonell Central’s big inning began when Carly Jenson singled to lead off the bottom of the third and leadoff hitter Josie Verbick reached on an error after laying down a sacrifice bunt. Verbick then stole second and an overthrow of second base allowed Jenson to score from third.
After a ground out, Verbick then came home on Andrea Hiess’ sac fly to shallow right field, where Belmont second baseman Briana Ernst made a nice running over-the-shoulder catch for the second out of the inning.
Megan Baier drew a two-out walk to keep the inning alive. Lisa Bremness singled and Liz Rietschel delivered a clutch two-out single to centerfield to make it 4–1. Verbick doubled home a run in the fourth to extend the lead to 4–1.
Running out of chances, Belmont finally put together a two-out rally of its own in the top of the sixth inning.
Nolan reached on a one-out error. Sophomore shortstop Nikki Knebel singled up the middle and Althaus reached on a fielder’s choice to load the bases for senior Lydia Leahy.
Leahy came through with a two-run single through the right side scoring pinch runner Ashley Knebel and Nikki Knebel to pull the Braves within striking distance at 5–3.
Then with sophomore outfielder Callie Wiegel at the plate, Leahy danced between first and second base, drawing a pick off throw from Central catcher Liz Rietschal before diving safely back to first base, allowing Althaus just enough time to dart home to make it a one-run game. But the Braves rally ended there, as Wiegel flew out to rightfield to end the inning.
“I didn’t expect anything less,” said Hodgson of his Braves’ comeback inning. “That’s what we have done all year. We are a hard team to beat and we proved to be a hard team to beat again Thursday.”
The Braves had the top of the order up in the top of the seventh, but went 1-2-3 to end the game.
Rand was rung up on a full-count pitch on the outside corner after battling through an 11-pitch at-bat.
“I think that was the at-bat of the game,” said Hodgson. “I trust Maddie Rand’s eye at the plate with my life. When she says, ‘I couldn’t reach it. It was low and outside’, I believe her. Sometimes you need a bounce or a call to go your way and we didn’t get that call or bounce in the seventh inning.”
Senior first baseman Caitlyn Gilbertson grounded out to the pitcher and Ernst hit a rope right at the centerfielder to end the game and Belmont’s storybook season.
“I coach in one heck of a town,” added Hodgson. “We had a great turnout and had great fans behind us. I don’t think our kids were nervous at all and our fans had a lot to do with that. We played a softball game on a big stage that was really cool to be a part of. It just didn’t go our way, but I am proud of my kids.
The Braves graduate four seniors of this year’s team in Nolan, Rand, Leahy and Gilbertson.
“They put the program in a lot better place than they found it,” said Hodgson. “When they came in as freshmen, we were had one of our three losing seasons (in 23 years). And in their final three years they put us back to where we belong. They were all great kids and fun to be around. We sure are going to miss them.”
Over the past three years, Belmont has gone 69–19 overall and 38–4 in the Six Rivers Conference, while winning three straight conference titles, a pair of regional titles a berth in the 2017 state tournament.
WIAA Division 5 state semifinal
McDonell Central 5, Belmont 4
(from Thursday, June 8 @ Goodman Diamond, Madison)
Belmont 010 003 0 — 4 4 2
McDonell Central 004 100 x — 5 7 4
Leading hitters — MC: Lisa Bremness 2x3. 2B — CC: Josie Verbick.
W — Megan Baier (7IP, 4H, 4R, 0ER, 3K, 1BB). L — Sadie Willborn (19–3, 6IP, 7H, 5R, 1ER, 2K, 2BB).