Rangers' Playoff Run Ends in State Semifinal
At the beginning of every high school sport season, one of the team goals for every team is to make it to the state tournament. For the Wausaukee Rangers' softball team, it was one key word that put everything else into place: Destiny. "Starting the new season, our key word was "Destiny'." Wausaukee coach Sue Stoltenberg added, "We started playing well, Lexi [Zak] played well, our defense played well, we hit the ball. Things happened, the right matchups happened for us. We had a little bit of luck, which I think you do need at this level sometimes. It's so hard to get to state, you do need a little luck. It's just been a great ride and a fun ride for the girls." That ride ended for the Lady Rangers in the Division 5 State Semifinal game at Goodman Diamond in Madison.
During any playoff game, especially at the state tournament, everyone knows it is all about what happens between the white lines. Unfortunately for the Rangers, the Blair-Taylor Wildcats seemed to have their number Wednesday. Blair-Taylor put up at least one run in every inning, including two, three-run innings, on their way to an 11-0 win over Wausaukee in five innings.
"I'm proud of all of them. We really came together as a team. There's no one superstar on this team, we all came together as a big family and enjoyed this trip down to Madison. Did it end the way we wanted it to end? No. Absolutely not. Blair-Taylor, give them credit, they put the bat on the ball. I'm super proud of this team. They've worked hard in practice every single day and never made an excuse not to come to practice. They enjoyed the heck out of it and overall, they're just a fun group to be with," Coach Stoltenberg said about her team.
The Wildcats may have gotten the best of the Rangers during their five-inning official contest, but a 35-minute rain delay unofficial dance off likely went in Wausaukee's favor. The ladies in red performed a picture-perfect routine of the "Cupid Shuffle" amongst other songs.
"Look at the rain delay, they were out there dancing and having a blast. That's what this is all about," Coach Stoltenberg said.
As far as the game goes, it was seemingly all Blair-Taylor from start to finish. Wildcat leadoff batter Ari Charles laced a double down the left field line in the top of the first inning. Charles advanced to third and home on two illegal pitches. "I knew she was kind of borderline on a couple of pitches but it's never been called all season." Coach Stoltenberg added of the illegal pitches, "The call was that she had her hands together and then moved back."
Cierra Curran drew a two-out walk for the Wildcats. Curran advanced on a wild pitch and scored as Lauren Steien singled to center field. After the half inning, Blair-Taylor led 2-0. In their half of the first, Wausaukee grounded out, struck out and grounded out for a one, two, three inning.
In the second inning, Blair-Taylor put together a two-out rally to score a run. Charles singled and stole second base. Samantha Fuselier laid down a bunt single to advance Charles to third and a throwing error allowed Charles to reach home safely. Following the inning, the Wildcats led 3-0.
Wausaukee came to the plate looking to cut the lead. After a strikeout, Alexis Ranallo reached on an infield single. Ranallo was caught stealing for the second out of the inning and a ground out was recorded for out number three.
Blair-Taylor doubled their advantage in the third. Curran drilled a triple to right field to lead off the Wildcats. Steien singled to center field scoring Curran. Janesa Janzen doubled to center, plating Isabel Berg (Steien's courtesy runner). Danyelle Waldera singled to right field and scored another run, but was tagged out at second base. Katrina Keller hit a single up the middle for the Wildcats' fifth consecutive hit. After the chain of hits, a ground out and line out ended the inning, but not before Blair-Taylor extended the lead to 6-0.
Allison Versaskas led off Wausaukee's third inning with a base hit, advancing to second on a throwing error. A ground out to second base allowed Versaskas to advance, but a strikeout and pop-up ended the inning.
The Wildcats went back into attack-mode in the fourth. Fuselier led off with a walk and stole second base. Curran drilled a single to center, scoring Fuselier. Curran ran to second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on a throwing error. Steien reached safely on a fielder's choice and her runner, Berg, stole second base. Waldera walked to load the bases and Keller hit a single to right field to score Curran and Berg. Blair-Taylor jumped ahead 9-0 after the inning.
Two strikeouts and a fly-out quickly ended the Rangers' time at the plate. Blair-Taylor took advantage by scoring two runs in their half of the fifth. Fuselier reached safely on an error and stole second base. Fuselier used her speed to steal third base as well. Marlee Nehring drew a walk and swiped second. Steien helped her own cause by drilling a double to right-center field that plated Fuselier and Nehring. This extended the lead to 11-0, putting the run-rule in play.
Wausaukee had one last chance to score at least two runs to extend the game. A strikeout, pop-up and strikeout ended the ball game, with Blair-Taylor winning 11-0 in five innings. Alexis Ranallo finished her Wausaukee career with a 1-for-2 game, while the other Ranger hit came off the bat of Allison Versaskas. After the dust settled the team had a chance to reflect on a special season.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world. Back in freshman year we said that we would get back to state, some time, and we did. I couldn't be any more grateful to that." Wausaukee senior Alexis Ranallo added, "I think we bonded more together as a team this season. We found ways to work together, make the plays and hit the ball, and that allowed us to keep going."
"Ending it on the Goodman Diamond my senior year was awesome, I wouldn't have wanted to end it anywhere else," said Ranger senior Torri Jewett. "We came up with the word "Destiny' throughout the season. Then we did "G.U.T.S.', get us to sectionals and get us to state. I feel like that helped us a lot and our coaches pushed us to do better every day."
With only two seniors on the team, the Wausaukee Rangers and Sue Stoltenberg have plenty to look forward to. "We have a good freshmen class. I think a couple of freshmen; their eyes were a little big with the big stage and so on. I think [the underclassmen] get the taste of this, they get hungry and will want to come back," Coach Stoltenberg said of the Rangers' future.
Wausaukee pitcher Lexi Zak, a junior, talked about how she approached her first state start and what the experience means to the returning Rangers.
"It's kind of just like any other game, but it was just a bigger reward at the end." Zak added about the experience, "It just makes us work harder for this next time and just keep wanting to come back and keep working. "Destiny' helped us a lot with this. That was our little phrase towards the end and it just stuck with us."
Wausaukee coach Sue Stoltenberg and Blair-Taylor coach Greg Bratina had a history before the contest, and now have memories that will last a lifetime.
"Back in the early 90's, Sue was at Blair-Taylor [School District] the year before I got there. Being younger teachers, we just kind of bonded together a little bit. She played ball, I played ball, and we helped out the coach at that time as volunteers. We just got to know each other more and really developed a friendship." Coach Bratina added when asked about the experience, "Surreal, I wish it would have been [the championship game] Saturday. It was a great feeling, we gave each other a big hug before the game and a few other times. There were no mind games, we're just good friends, and that's the way we are."
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