BELMONT — Belmont didn’t have much trouble putting runners on base in Friday’s WIAA regional final game against Southwestern, but the Lady Braves had plenty of trouble getting those runners home.
The #8-ranked Braves (20-8 overall) put runners on base in every inning, but they could not find a way to put a run across the plate as the #6-ranked Wildcats earned their program’s first regional champion title on the softball diamond by blanking the Braves, 3-0, at Belmont’s Bond Park.
“We had a lot of opportunities early in the game and we just didn’t take care of them. We had runners on in the first three innings, but we couldn’t knock them in. When that happens, the momentum switches to their side,” said Belmont head coach Jeff Hodgson.
Kuhl worked out of jams in the first, second and third innings to keep the score deadlocked at 0-0, and then the Wildcats (22-3) broke the tie in the top of the fourth inning with a two-out, two-run rally.
Allison Kruser started it with a two-out bloop single, and she came around to score on Rachael Myers’ triple down the right field line. Rachel Mueller followed with a clutch two-out bunt single to drive in Myers for a 2-0 lead.
The ‘Cats tacked on an insurance run in the fifth when Jenna Stienstra reached on an error and scored on Amber Brand’s RBI-single to go up 3-0.
The Braves threatened in the bottom of the seventh, getting back-to-back singles by freshman pitcher Sadie Willborn and senior center fielder Brook Knebel to bring the tying run to the plate with just one down. However, Kuhl got two of the Braves’ top hitters, juniors Maddie Rand and Paige Nolan, to ground out to secure the SWAL champion Wildcats’ first-ever regional crown.
“Hats off to their pitcher. She’s a very nice player,’ noted Hodgson.
Willborn (7-3) took the tough loss after allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits with no walks and seven strikeouts.
Ernst went 2-for-3 to lead the Braves’ six-hit attack.
“Some times we take for granted how fortunate we are here. We play in regional finals and we treat them like any other game. That’s great, but I sometimes think we don’t understand how blesses we are,” stated Hodgson after leading his team to a 20-win season and a second straight Six Rivers West title this year.
Playing in their final prep game for the Braves were seniors Brook Knebel and Ali Travis.
“I got two kids I’d do anything for and I feel terrible for them. A regional title is a regional title, but I feel worse that I’m never going to coach them again. That bothers me more than anything else,” Hodgson said.
Belmont advanced to Friday’s game by blanking Argyle, 8-0, in a D4 regional semifinal game at Bond Park on Wednesday, May 25.
The Braves grabbed an early lead on B. Knebel’s sacrifice fly in the first inning, and they put the game again with a seven-run outburst in the third inning. Ernst drilled a two-run double and Nolan ripped a two-run triple during the stanza, while Caitlyn Gilbertson lined a RBI-single and scored a run for the hosts.
Willborn tossed four and two-thirds innings to earn the win, scattering six hits and two walks while fanning six batters.
Ernst finished 2-for-4 with two doubles, two RBI and a run. B. Knebel was 2-for-3 with two RBI, a run and a double, while Nolan went 2-for-4 with a triple, two RBI and two runs.
WIAA D4 REGIONAL FINAL
Southwestern… 000 210 0 – 3 5 2
Belmont……….. 000 000 0 – 0 6 1
Leading Hitters: Briana Ernst 2x3. SW- 3B– Rachael Myers.
WP- Madison Kuhl. LP- Sadie Willborn.
WIAA D4 REGIONAL SEMIFINAL
Argyle…… 000 000 0 – 0 7 1
Belmont… 017 000 x – 8 11 0
Leading Hitters: Brook Knebel 2x3, Paige Nolan 2x4, Briana Ernst 2x4. 3B– Nolan. 2B– B. Knebel, Ernst (2).
WP- Sadie Willborn. LP- Mathys.
At Belmont, on Wednesday, May 25