MADISON — The Chippewa Falls Cardinals just wanted a chance as they entered the bottom of the seventh inning trailing 5-2.
Chi-Hi head coach Kate Fjelstad grabbed her team and reminded them how hard they had fought all year. The two home runs they surrendered in the top of the inning put them in a daunting hole, but the Cardinals weren’t going to fold.
“We’ve come from behind and fought all year,” Fjelstad told her team. “People counted us out all season, let’s show them what we got.”
Bayleigh Dresel took a one-out walk, before freshman Hannah Aldrich reached on an error to bring the tying run to the plate in Mallory Sterling.
“It was not good news to see her coming up to the plate,” Kenosha Bradford/Reuther coach John Ruffolo said. “She’s legit.”
Sterling worked a full count, but fouled out to left field to retire the second out. It brought Jayden Hodgson to the plate, representing the Cardinals’ last chance. Hodgson, who was a perfect 2 for 2 with a walk in her previous three plate appearances, hit a ground ball that the Red Devils couldn’t convert to an out, allowing the Cardinals to score a run and move the tying-run to second.
If there was ever a time for the Red Devils’ freshman pitcher to show her nerves, this would have been the moment. But Levie Lehmann forced Nicole Crumbaker to groundout, ending the Cardinals’ season 5-3 on Thursday morning in the Division 1 state quarterfinals at Goodman Diamond in Madison.
“I’m so proud of these girls getting here and being one of the last eight teams standing,” an emotional Fjelstad said.
Chi-Hi’s star pitcher and leadoff hitter, Sterling, made her impact felt early. Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the first, Sterling led off with a single to left and moved to second on a walk by Hodgson. With two on, Crumbaker showed bunt, but a high pitch from Lehmann went to the backstop, allowing the runners to advance. Crumbaker then rolled a ground ball toward third base. The Red Devils looked Sterling back to the base before firing to first to record the out. But Sterling wasn’t going to hang around third for long, she took off for home and just barely beat the throw to even the score.
A batter later, Abby Staves shot a ground ball through the left side of the infield to score Hodgson and give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead.
An inning later, the Red Devils had a chance to do some real damage in the top of the fourth with a pair of runners in scoring position and the top of their lineup due up. Leadoff hitter Chloe Garofalo laid down a one-out slapper that rolled back to Sterling, who looked off the runner at third, then threw to first to retire the second out of the inning. Sydney Strelow followed with a line drive single to left field. The ball hopped in front of Hodgson in left to score a run, but Hodgson came up with the ball and fired home to nab the Red Devils trying to take home.
The Red Devils added a run in the fourth, before their two future NCAA Division 1 softball players, Strelow and Alyssa McClelland, hit back-to-back two-out solo home runs to give Kenosha Bradford/Reuther a three-run lead.
The loss was the Cardinals’ second straight exit in the quarterfinals at Madison and marked the end of the road for the team’s five graduating seniors.
“I thanked my seniors,” Flejstad said. “Softball doesn’t define us. What our group does together defines us, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Staves’ career came to an end with a 1 for 3 performance that included her 27th RBI of the season, the third most on the team. Her stats were phenomenal all season, but that’s not what she’s the most thankful for.
“I’m going to take away having some great coaches and just some bonds that I’ve created with the girls over the season,” Staves said. “It’s been phenomenal.”
Sterling will head to Madison College next year where she was recruited to pitch for the Wolfpack.
“I love the way she competes,” Wolfpack assistant softball coach and Sterling’s lead recruiter Terry Ruchti said. “You’re not going to beat her because she never quits.”
Replacing Sterling is not going to be an easy task for the Cardinals.
“She’s a warrior,” Fjelstad said. “She always has been. We’re going to miss our seniors big time this year.”
Kenosha Bradford/Reuther 5, Chippewa Falls 3
Bradford/Reuther 110 100 2 — 5 9 3
Chippewa Falls 200 000 1 — 3 6 1
WP: Levie Lehmann (7 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K). LP: Mallory Sterling (7 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 K). Leading hitters — Kenosha Bradford/Reu: Sydney Strelow 2-4 (R, 2 RBI, HR), Alyssa McClelland 2-4, (2 R, RBI, HR), Jadynn Powell 2-4, (RBI). Chippewa Falls: Sterling 1-4, (R), Jayen Hodgson 2-3, (R, BB), Abby Staves 1-3, (RBI).
Records: Chippewa Falls 21-7.