BELMONT – Before every game this season, Southwestern softball coach John Costello would plant a seed of confidence in each one of his player’s heads, telling them that they are the better team.
More times than not, his team would respond with a victory, proving to themselves and to everyone else that their coach was right.
Last Thursday night with a division 4 state tournament berth on the line, coach Costello again gave his message to his team, and once again, the Wildcats responded with a victory.
Keeping their historic season alive, Southwestern defeated De Soto, 5-3, in last Thursday’s division 4 sectional final played at Belmont, and earned the program’s first-ever state tournament berth.
Even though his Wildcats were the third seed in their D4 sectional bracket, coach Costello always believed that his team was the better of the two, regardless of who their opponent was.
“When we got the No. 3 seed in our sectional, I said to the girls in every game we played, that we are the better team, and I believed we were the better team,” Costello said.
Southwestern’s road to state included an 8-0 win over the second-seeded Braves of Belmont, a 4-2 win over top-seeded Juda/Albany, and now a 5-3 win over another top seed from De Soto.
Last Wednesday night, the Wildcats gutted out a 4-2 sectional semifinal win over Juda/Albany (24-3), who ended Southwestern’s season last year with a 3-2 regional final win.
Last Wednesday night, the Wildcats used four hits to score three runs in the top of the first inning, which included an RBI double from Rachael Myers and RBI singles from Allison Kruser and Rachael Muller.
Juda/Albany scored their first run of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning, and in the top of the sixth, Southwestern answered with a run of their own.
Juda/Albany then scored another run in the bottom of the sixth, closing out the scoring for both teams.
Seven different players for Southwestern each had one hit, while Katie Fritz, Haily Hinman, Allison Kruser and Rachael Myers each crossed the plate once.
In the pitching circle, Madison Kuhl gave up just one earned run off two hits, while striking out five batters and walking one.
Kuhl was at the top of her game the following Thursday night, striking out 14 De Soto batters, while walking three. She allowed just three unearned runs off four hits in the sectional final contest.
“Madison has been fabulous, and tonight she brought her “A” game,” said coach Costello. “She did a fabulous job of keeping the ball around the plate. She made some huge clutch pitches against their good hitters, and got them to ground out and to pop out.”
“I can’t say enough about Madison’s leadership, along with the other seniors as well,” Costello added.
It wasn’t until the top of the fourth inning that De Soto (20-4) had their first runner on base, and with the Pirates occupying second and third, Kuhl struck out three batters to end the threat.
The Wildcats got on the board first with two runs in the bottom of the third inning, where Amber Brand had an RBI double to score Rachel Myers, who later scored on a mishandled grounder hit to third base by Allison Kruser.
Southwestern kept the hot bats alive in the bottom of the fourth, as Hanna Hinman pounded a two-run home run to score Claire Splinter, and give the Wildcats a 4-0 lead.
The scoring continued in the bottom of the fifth, where Madison Kuhl then had an RBI single to score Myers on a hard-hit grounder up the middle.
Still, coach Costello wasn’t about to get comfortable and allow his team to relax.
“I never feel comfortable, because this game is funny,” Costello said. “Anything can happen. It’s never over until it’s over.”
Southwestern’s 5-0 lead then came under attack in the top of the sixth inning, where De Soto got the bats warmed up to score three runs of their own.
The Wildcats managed to stop the bleeding in time, as they came up with two big outs with a runner left stranded on third, preserving a 5-3 lead.
While coach Costello admits that he wasn’t nervous before Thursday’s sectional final, he did see a little nerves rise to the surface of his team, especially in the later innings when De Soto attempted to mount a come back.
“I wasn’t nervous. I just knew that if we went out and played the way we are capable of we were going to be on the upside of that,” Costello said.
Neither team could add to their total in their final at bat, as Southwestern improved to 24-3 on the year, and earned the program’s first-ever state tournament berth.
“It’s emotional, it’s a high, it’s awesome,” said an excited coach Costello after the game. “I’m so proud of these girls, and I can’t say enough good things about them.”
“I tell you, at three different times (during the game) I had tears in my eyes,” Costello added. “They’ve worked their tails off and I’m very proud of them. I am just so excited for them.”
On the night, Southwestern had seven hits, getting two from Katie Fritz, who also scored two runs.
Hinman led the team with two RBIs, wile Kruser, Kuhl and Brand each had one.
The historic season for this year’s Southwestern varsity softball team lives to see another day, as the Wildcats will next take on Cochrane-Fountain City (24-4) at Goodman Diamond in Madison, Friday morning at 9:00. The winner will move on to Saturday’s state championship game schedule to begin at 12:30.
Southwestern 4, Juda/Albany 2
(D4 sectional semifinal from Wednesday, June 1, at Darlington)
Southwestern 300 001 0 - 4 7 3
Juda/Albany 000 011 0 - 2 2 1
2B - Allison Kruser (SW), Rachael Myers (SW), Madison Kuhl (SW). W - Madison Kuhl (7IN,2H,1ER,5K,1BB). L - #30 (7IN,7H,3ER,11K,0BB).
Southwestern 5, De Soto 3
(D4 sectional final from Thursday, June 2, at Belmont)
De Soto 000 003 0 - 3 4 2
Southwestern 002 210 x - 5 7 2
Leading hitters - DS: ; SW: Katie Frtiz 2x3. 2B - Amber Brand (SW), Madison Kuhl (SW). HR - Hanna Hinman (SW). W - Madison Kuhl (7IN,4H,0ER,14K,3BB). L - #24 (6IN,7H,5ER,2K,2BB).