BELMONT — Belmont head coach Jeff Hodgson knows the way to Goodman Diamond pretty well and he’s not shy about giving his team directions to get there.
Hodgson felt pretty strongly since the softball season started that his team had a good chance to earn a trip to Madison and WIAA State Tournament in the first year of Division 5 competition; and his #2-ranked Lady Braves followed his directions well, earning the school’s sixth all-time state tournament berth by rolling over Black Hawk, 13–0, in a five-inning D5 sectional championship game played Thursday at Belmont Park.
“You don’t drive anywhere without knowing what road you’re going to take or without looking at a road map,” said Hodgson after his Braves wrapped up their first state berth since 2009 with their 13th consecutive victory. “Maybe other coaches do it differently, but I quietly say to my players that I think we got a shot (at state). They did what we asked them to do. I’m so proud of them.”
Belmont (28–2 overall) didn’t have to leave home during their playoff run and, once they shook the monkey that was Southwestern off their back in Tuesday’s sectional semifinal game, the Braves came out with an intensity on Thursday that Black Hawk (14–12) had no chance to match.
After sophomore pitcher Sadie Willborn retired the Warriors in order in the top of the first inning, the Braves sent 14 batters to the plate in their half of the first to jump out to an early 9-0 lead. The hosts only had three hits in the inning, but used four walks and three Black Hawk errors to their advantage.
“It was a tough environment,” admitted Black Hawk head coach Jim Baumgartner, who had led the Warriors to their first sectional appearance since 2002 and first sectional final since 1995. “ Having a sectional championship game at their home was a huge advantage from them, and they made the most of it. I did everything I could to keep their minds off of it, but they were so wound up. You could see it. Those were plays we normally make.”
Senior third baseman Maddie Rand had a RBI-double and scored twice during the rally, while senior outfielder Lydia Leahy smashed a three-run single and scored a run for the Braves. Sophomore catcher Abby Althaus also had a RBI-single and a run scored in the first frame.
“We showed a lot of energy,” added Hodgson. “I was excited about this opportunity, and we came out and played hard early. We thought if we could get on top early maybe our day would be a little easier.”
Belmont padded its lead by plating three insurance runs in the third inning, and then added one more in the fourth to go ahead 13–0.
“Once it started snowballing like that, then that’s the way it goes,” said Baumgartner. “There’s nothing for these girls to hang their heads about. It was a great season. There isn’t anybody who thought we’d be here in the sectional final game. I’m so proud of them.”
Willborn (19–2) limited the Warriors to just four base runners in the game on two hits and two walks and didn’t allow a run over four innings in the circle to notch the win. She finished with three strikeouts.
Senior Paige Nolan pitched a perfect fifth inning for Belmont, fanning the first two batters she faced and getting the final out on a pop out to set off the Braves’ sectional championship celebration.
Black Hawk freshman pitcher Hannah Butler (13–11) gave up just one earned run in the loss. She surrendered eight hits and seven walks with two Ks.
Leahy was 2-for-2 with four RBI and a run scored to lead the Belmont attack. Senior first baseman Caitlyn Gilbertson went 2-for-4 with a double and three runs scored, while Althaus went 2-for-2 with a RBI.
Nolan and Rand each knocked in two runs and scored twice for the Braves.
“After beating Southwestern, I think we took a big sigh of relief and decided we were going to play softball,” said Hodgson. “When this team plays softball like they know how, they’re pretty good. We’ll see what the future brings.”
Belmont will face #4-ranked Chippewa Falls McDonell Central (20–4) in a D5 state semifinal game at Goodman Diamond in Madison on Thursday, at 5 p.m.
The winner advances to meet the winner of Thursday’s other state semifinal between Wausaukee (15–8) and Blair-Taylor (23–3) in the WIAA D5 state championship game on Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for 8 a.m.
Last Tuesday at Belmont, Sadie Willborn shut down the high-powered offensive attack of the #5-ranked Southwestern Wildcats with six shutout innings and had a key RBI-single during a three-run outburst in the third inning to lead the Lady Braves to a 3–1 victory in sectional semifinal action.
Nolan ripped a two-run single to open the Belmont rally in the third, and Willborn followed with a run-scoring base hit of her own to bring in Nolan for a 3–0 lead.
The Wildcats (21–8), who knocked off the Braves during last year’s tournament on their way to a state runner-up finish in D4 and also handed them one of their two losses this season with a 10–9 eight-inning win back on April 28, plated a run in the top of the sixth to cut the Belmont lead to 3–1.
Southwestern put the tying runner on base in both the sixth and seventh stanzas, but Willborn worked her way out of both jams to secure the victory for the Braves.
Willborn allowed just one run on four hits and five walks while striking out 11 batters en route to the complete game win.
Gilbertson went 2-for-2 with a run scored to lead the Braves at the plate.
WIAA Division 5 sectional semifinal
#1 Belmont 3, #2 Southwestern 1
(from Tuesday, May 30 @ Belmont)
Southwestern 000 001 0 — 1 3 0
Belmont 003 000 x — 3 5 1
Leading hitters — B: Caitlyn Gilbertson 2x2. 2B — S: Allison Kruser; B: Paige Nolan, Sadie Willborn.
W — Sadie Willborn (18–2, 7IP, 3H, 1ER, 11K, 5BB). L — Mya Runde (6IP, 5H, 3ER, 2K, 3BB).
WIAA Division 5 sectional final
#1 Belmont 13, #3 Black Hawk 0
(from Thursday, June 1 @ Belmont)
Black Hawk 000 00 — 0 2 5
Belmont 903 1x — 13 8 1
Leading hitters — B: Caitlyn Gilbertson 2x4, Abby Althaus 2x2, Lydia Leahy 2x2. 2B — B: Maddie Rand, Gilbertson.
W — Sadie Willborn (19–2, 4IP, 2H, 0R, 3K, 2BB). L — Hannah Butler (4IP, 8H, 13R, 1ER, 2K, 7BB).