GREEN BAY — All signs pointed to a tight, well-pitched and cleanly fielded game, where one run might make the difference in the WIAA Division 1 state softball championship.
Top-seeded and fifth-ranked Kaukauna manufactured that lone run in the bottom of the fourth inning and it proved decisive in a 1-0 victory over second-seeded and ninth-ranked Sun Prairie on Wednesday at UW-Green Bay’s King Park.
It was the Galloping Ghosts’ third state championship in three state appearances, adding to titles won in 2010 and 2017.
Sun Prairie (23-4) made its third consecutive appearance in the title game, finishing as runner-up for the second straight time after winning the championship in 2018.
“I’m ecstatic in regards that we got second,” Sun Prairie coach Jamie Olson said. “Would you want (No.) 1? Absolutely. But my thing is, we are No. 2 in the state of Wisconsin. We were only ranked one time all year and to come back and be No. 2 in the state, it’s pretty cool.”
Kaukauna (27-2) scored its run on senior shortstop Khloe Hinkens’ sacrifice fly, which brought home junior left fielder Ava VanAsten. She led off the inning with a single, moved up a base on junior catcher Anna LaCount’s sacrifice and continued running to third when the throw went to second.
“We’ve been practicing if they overrun the base to just snap-throw back to the bag,” Sun Prairie sophomore first baseman Sophia Royle said. “That’s just what they did. She was a smart bas runner and she went (to third).”
Said Kaukauna coach Tim Roehrig: “Ava made an unbelievable read to get us that one run.”
Junior pitcher Skyler Calmes, relying on her changeup and drop ball and outstanding defensive play behind her, shut out the Cardinals on four hits. The 5-foot-10 right-hander struck out two and walked none.
Sun Prairie freshman pitcher Tayler Baker permitted one run on five hits, striking out five and walking none. Baker threw shutouts in the Cardinals’ first two state tournament games.
“I knew going in that it was going to be a tough game,” Olson said. “You have to score to win. They got that one run and we just were not able to get it today.”
Sun Prairie had hits in the second inning (by Baker), third (sophomore left fielder Carly Gross), fifth (senior right fielder Kiana Patterson) and the seventh (senior third baseman Ellie Rademacher) but didn’t threaten against Calmes.
“I thought it was going to be close,” Sun Prairie senior shortstop Grace Radlund said. “We just couldn’t figure it out today. It happens. They were a good team and we were a good team, and they just came out on top today. … They had really good coverage on our bunts. They knew what we were going to do.”
It appeared the Ghosts had added a run in the sixth. LaCount grounded to Radlund, who, from her knees, threw out LaCount at first for the second out. Royle then threw home when Ghosts sophomore center fielder Kally Meredith, who was on third, broke for home.
Meredith initially was called safe on her slide, but then was called out when Sun Prairie junior catcher Chloe Knoernschild applied the tag as Meredith continued past the plate.
Rademacher led off the seventh with a single to right. Baker then drove a ball to center, which Meredith hauled in for the first out.
Olson thought about having cleanup hitter Baker bunt. “I considered it,” Olson said. “But you know what? She’s a powerhouse. We want (the team’s) power to hit.”
Sun Prairie was making its seventh state trip, including its fourth consecutive state appearance. The 2020 spring season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cardinals also finished second in 2012.
“If you would have asked me early in the season (when Sun Prairie was 4-3) if we were going to make it (to state), I probably would have said, `No,’ ’’ said Radlund, who was on the Sun Prairie teams that reached the state final the past three times. “But we figured it out, we came together as a team and strung some wins together. I’m proud of us, but it sucks to lose our last game.”
Olson had believed her young group was a team to be reckoned with this season.
“We knew their pitcher was really good … We got on the bus after the sendoff and I told the girls, `This is the best team we’re going to face all year long,’” Roehrig said. “You look at them and they are well-coached, a great team. I said, `But I think we are better.’’’
Sun Prairie defeated seventh-seeded Beaver Dam 8-0 in a quarterfinal and sixth-seeded Chippewa Falls 4-0 in a semifinal on Monday.
“It’s just amazing that we were the No. 2 team in the state – just to be able to make it there,” Royle said. “We fought really hard. I’m just proud of us, getting our confidence back because we had three losses right away at the beginning of the year. We just knew it was going to be a hard road to state and we wound up coming together as a team and we just powered through the rest of the season.”
The Cardinals reeled off 19 consecutive victories after a loss to Oak Creek.
“I think that after that game (against Oak Creek), we all knew that this was possible,” Baker said of reaching the state title game. “We just needed to play as a team and connect more.”