New London, Hortonville girls bring home trophies
By Scott Bellile
Local ball diamonds continue to cultivate successful girls.
Two Amateur Softball Association (ASA) fast pitch teams brought home national championships this month while another was a national runner-up.
New London-based Impact Fastpitch won the Class A 18-Under Northern National Championship in Springfield, Missouri, on Aug. 2. Hortonville’s Polar Bear Fastpitch 14U Black team won the Class B 14-Under Northern National Championship in Wausau the same day.
The Polar Bears finished all eight games at nationals undefeated. Impact Fastpitch, stacked with six New London Bulldogs who had competed in this year’s WIAA Division 2 State Tournament in Madison, gave up just one early game during pool play.
A third team, the New London Bulldogs 10-Under team, brought home the runner-up trophy. They posted a 4-2 record at the Class A 10-Under Northern in Rochester, Minnesota, on Aug. 2.
Hortonville: The ‘comeback kids’
Polar Bears 14U Black coach Tom Cliver said this is the team’s first national championship to his knowledge. His girls were the comeback kids of the tournament, he said, often claiming their lead later in the game.
Tom’s daughter Emily Cliver, a 14U player, agreed. She said the competition was tough and the Polar Bears played their hardest each game to catch up.
“Even if you had a bad play or you struck out, the team was there to support you,” Emily said. “It was probably the best playing I’ve seen all season.”
Tom Cliver said Bob Pethke, co-head coach for Hortonville High School’s varsity softball team, recently joined the 14U team as a way of developing the ballplayers entering high school. Pethke’s presence on the team has been valuable, Tom said.
The team’s final win was a comeback against Marshfield. The Polar Bears trailed behind with a 3-1 start before scoring two runs to tie the game. They ultimately won 7-4.
“It is special,” Tom said. “You walk away from it and you realize what you did was pretty unique.”
Hortonville’s 10U Black team also finished high at a national tournament, taking fifth at the National Softball Association Northern World Series near Indianapolis in late July.
NLHS state players fuel team
Impact Fastpitch formed this year and by the end of its season landed a national championship to its name.
“It’s a really cool thing,” assistant coach Mike O’Connell said. “It was a big-time accomplishment.”
Chad Mix, father of New London High School softball players Payton and McCoy Mix, started Impact Fastpitch to give his daughters and other young women an 18U option, as he said that age range is more limited.
The inaugural squad was stacked with six powerful Bulldogs: the Mix sisters, Shelby Sommer, Alanna Beyer, Abby Elsholtz and Molly O’Connell. Six more girls from the region finished out the lineup.
The girls’ one loss was to a Missouri team they later defeated in semifinals. The win that sealed the championship was a 14-2 blowout against another Missouri team. That game ended after four and a half innings.
“For the older kids on our team that this is their last year of 18U softball as well as high school softball, there’s no better way to go out,” Chad said.
Mike’s daughter Molly said the win didn’t sink in at first, but once it did it was an incredible feeling.
“After realizing what we had accomplished, it just put everything into perspective,” Molly said. “That’s why we work so hard in the winter, that’s why we practice for another hour after everyone else went home, that’s why we do what we do. We do it to fulfill every traveling athlete’s dream, competing on the biggest stage against the best competition, and being successful while doing so.”
Molly said the win at nationals was a nice victory after the Lady Bulldogs had ended their third consecutive trip to WIAA state in June with a 3-1 loss to La Crosse Logan in the semifinals.
“No matter what team you’re on or where you’re from, a loss hurts,” she said. “Winning this title was totally different than competing in the WIAA State Tournament in June. It was with a different group of girls, a different coach, and it’s just a different atmosphere, but winning the national championship does feel good.”
Future Lady Bulldogs win
New London could have future WIAA State Tournament champs in the making in the form of its 10U team that placed second in Rochester.
10U Head Coach Cris Kringel said it was an awesome experience to compete at the national level with his hard-working players. Although they lost 7-6 in the final game to Salem’s Wisconsin Lightning team, the players created chemistry and lifetime memories, he said.
“The whole experience of being at nationals is something these girls can cherish forever,” Kringel said. “The relationships these girls built with each other, the laughs we shared with them and the tears we shared with them, some sad tears and a lot of proud tears.
“Their no-quit attitude helped them believe no matter what the score was they were going to find a way to get it done,” Kringel added. “I will never forget this group of girls, coaches and supportive parents.”