Down to its last strike and with a freshman at the plate, things weren’t exactly looking up for the New London softball team.
Baldwin-Woodville was on the verge of winning its second straight Division 2 state softball championship June 8 at Goodman Diamond in Madison after holding the Bulldogs scoreless for nearly seven innings.
Not so fast.
Molly O’Connell’s two-run double that scored Abby Elsholtz and Kansas Walbruck gave the Bulldogs a 2-1 win over the Blackhawks. New London had advanced to its first state championship since 2005 June 6 with a 6-0 win over Monroe.
New London 2, B-W 1
Baldwin-Woodville came up with a run in the top of the first inning on Heidi Hinz’s leadoff single, a Bulldog error and Abby Klopp’s sacrifice fly, but that turned out to be the Blackhawks’ only run of the game.
New London trailed 1-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh and the Blackhawks were soon one out away from a state title, as Emily Wilfuer grounded out to Klopp and Natalie Kurth popped out to second baseman Jordan Traxler.
Elsholtz started the New London rally with a walk and Walbruck singled. Elsholtz ended up at third on Walbruck’s hit and barely made it back to the bag after making a wide turn.
The play happened right in front of co-coach Laura Turner, who was coaching at third base.
“Right in front of me, that was my call,” she said. “I was originally sending her because I knew we weren’t going to have too many opportunities to score.
“I knew it was going to be a close call,” she said. “I think she got under the tag and it was a great call by the official. Having a first-and-third situation was better than being the last out of the game. It gave us an opportunity with another batter and forced their pitcher to throw some more pitches.”
Walbruck stole second to put two runners in scoring position with O’Connell at the plate.
“That was a huge play advancing the runner,” Turner said. “I’m very proud of Kansas for getting herself on base and being aggressive so we had two runners in scoring position. We were very excited having her at second base. She’s one of the wheels on our team. We knew if someone was going to score, it was going to be her and she was going to be that winning run. Thank God Molly O’Connell was there to put the ball in play.”
Klopp eventually had two strikes on O’Connell, but the freshman delivered a double to right center field to score both runners.
Klopp had held the Bulldogs to three hits through six innings, but gave up two in the seventh.
“We never had a runner at third up until that point,” Turner said. “Their pitcher did a great job against us. They were well scouted and knew our strengths and weaknesses.”
Walbruck, a senior, capped her high school softball career by scoring the biggest run in the program’s history. It was also her first game-winning run.
“It’s the best feeling in my entire life,” she said. “I just had to have confidence. I knew we could do it no matter what. There was a lot of pressure, but we had to believe we could do it.
“We’re a team that has to play hard, keep our confidence up and not let any mistake bother us,” she added. “We kept it going today and that’s what we had to do.”
Alanna Beyer had two of New London’s five hits in the game, while Shelby Sommer held the Blackhawks to three hits to get the win on the mound.
“I was very proud of them defensively after that first inning,” Turner said. “We were a little shaky in that first one, but Shelby pulled everything together as a pitcher. We knew they were going to hit the ball and her defense was catching it.”
“She just pitched her best in the regional and sectional games,” Walbruck said of Sommer, a sophomore. “She pitched a no-hitter in a sectional game. She knows she has her defense to back her up.”
The softball squad are the second New London girls’ team to make an appearance at state this year. The basketball team, which won Division 2 state titles in 2011 and 2012, played in the state semifinals in March.
“These are completely different kids, but they’re all great friends,” said Turner, who coaches the softball team with Tony Porath. “We had a lot of the basketball girls here rooting us on. That’s extra special because their varsity coach, Andrea Flease, was also in our dugout. It was a great feeling overall, a lot of success sitting in the dugout. There’s a lot of experience on the coaching staff and that really benefitted the girls this year.
“Coach Porath and I start over every year,” she added. “Him and I were driven and motivated last year to do really well. When we started this season, we always reload. We start with what we have. We don’t expect kids to fill other shoes, we expect them to fill their position.”
“Bringing home the gold for New London is what we needed to do,” Walbruck said. “Our whole community was backing us up and we had tons of fans here for us.”
New London 6, Monroe 0
A bases-loaded error on Monroe right fielder Lauren Hendrickson in the first inning gave the Bulldogs an early 3-0 lead in the semifinals.
Monroe starting pitcher Becca Armstrong gave up walks to Beyer, Wilfuer and Kurth before Morgan Gorges stepped up to the plate and sent the ball to Hendrickson in right field. However, the ball went under Hendrickson’s glove for an error and all three runners scored.
While Armstrong struggled on the mound, Sommer held the Cheesemakers to four hits.
Kayla Updike tripled for the Cheesemakers in the fourth, but Sommer ended the inning with back-to-back strikeouts.
New London added another run in the third, as Sommer drew a walk and pinch runner Tanna Spencer eventually scored on a wild pitch. The Bulldogs came up with two more in the sixth, as Elsholtz singled and scored on Walbruck’s single. Walbruck later scored on Beyer’s triple.
Beyer and Elsholtz each had two of New London’s eight hits in the game.
“There’s nothing really to say other than it’s completely exhilarating,” Turner said. “Especially the way it went down, it couldn’t have been anymore sweet for these girls. I’m still shaking thinking about it. We’re so proud of them. The future for the New London program is looking awesome. We have great ballplayers coming up and they were here to experience this. They know that it’s possible.”