MADISON — There’s a saying in baseball and softball that no player should leave the field with a clean uniform. A little dirt on the uniform shows effort and hustle in a player; it epitomizes ‘getting dirty’ for your team.
Blair-Taylor’s Ari Charles jersey showed exactly that. As she stepped to the plate for her final at-bat of the game, a pair of holes appeared along her left pant leg.
“I have a couple pairs that are patched up,” Charles said. “I wore through a pair that I literally had for a day.”
It was her speed and hustle all game that helped lift Blair-Taylor to a 8-3 win over Gilman in the WIAA Division 5 state semifinals at Goodman Diamond in Madison.
Charles, who is hitting from the left side for the first full season of her career, led off the game for the Wildcats with a slap single. Like she’s done all year, she didn’t spend long on first, taking off for second on her first opportunity. A pitch later, she swiped third and reached easily when the Pirates’ catcher fumbled the ball.
A fly out to center from Lauren Kidd gave the Wildcats an early 1-0 lead.
“Last year I feel like we didn’t press the issue, so this year we made that our emphasis,” Blair-Taylor coach Greg Bratina said. “We’re going to get after it and as you can see, we didn’t pull any punches.”
After falling behind 2-1 in the bottom of the second, the third inning was much like the first for the Wildcats. Blair-Taylor turned a pair of hits, a couple of walks and an error into four runs with its blazing speed. The Wildcats swiped five bases in the inning, rarely stopping to even catch their breath.
In the fifth, Charles did it again for the Wildcats. She reached on an error when the Pirates’ pitcher couldn’t come up with another one of Charles’ slap grounders. Again, Charles took off on the first pitch for second. With Kidd still batting, she took off for third, but when the Pirates threw over, the ball bounced into the outfield, allowing Charles to come home for her third run of the night.
Charles reached for a final time on an error in the seventh inning when the Pirates’ center fielder couldn’t come up with a line drive. Again she took second easily, but decided to wait on the base while Kidd batted. When Kidd hit a ground ball back to the catcher, Charles took off, rounding third and scoring on a groundout.
“We’re getting to the point now where the other team knows what’s going to happen, and (Charles) can still do it,” Bratina said.
Her hustle has become an expense to both the school and her family.
“This is her third set of pants,” Charles’ mother, Nika Charles, said. “The first set we had sewn up and patched last season, but they still have holes in them, so it’s very expensive.”
Aside from the Pirates two run second, Lauren Steien never let the Gilman muster any significant rally. She surrendered three hits and struck out six.
“Lauren, she’s unbelievable,” Bratina said. “A lot of people don’t realize she pitched a lot of this season with a fractured thumb on her throwing hand... now she’s healthy. Her focus (in the circle), she doesn’t get rattled, and I’m glad I have her for another year.”
The Wildcats return to action early Saturday morning at 8 a.m. to take on Division 5’s second-seeded Belmont in the state championship. The Braves blanked the Tri-County 15-0 earlier in the day.
“Let’s go back and finish what we started two years ago,” Bratina said. “Do what we didn’t do two years ago.”
Blair-Taylor 8, Gilman 3
Blair-Taylor 104 010 2 — 8 6 3
Gilman 020 010 0 — 3 3 6
WP: Lauren Steien (7 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K). LP: Katie Webster (7 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 5 K).
Leading hitters — Blair-Taylor: Cierra Curran 2-4 (3B, RBI). Gilman: Webster 2-3.
Records: Blair-Taylor 28-0, Gilman 21-5.