MONROE — Throughout her high school days, Monroe senior Olivia Bobak longed to step into the pitching circle at Goodman Diamond for a WIAA state tournament softball game.
Now, that time has arrived for Bobak and the Cheesemakers.
“It means so much, especially being a senior,” Bobak said. “This is my last year and this is the one thing I really wanted. I wanted to end this year with a bang. So, I’m so glad we made it this far. Even the underclassmen wanted it as much as I did. That meant a lot.”
Top-seeded and third-ranked Monroe (22-4) makes its first state appearance since 2013, facing fourth-seeded and ninth-ranked New Berlin West (22-3) in a Division 2 state semifinal at about 4:30 p.m. Friday at Goodman Diamond.
“There will be an overall sense of excitement because none of us have been there,” Monroe junior first baseman Grace Tostrud said, adding: “It’s really exciting to end a sports season at state, especially to do it with this group of girls because a lot of us have played together for a while. It’s been exciting to see how we have grown together as a team over the course of the season.”
Bobak led Monroe, which finished as Badger South Conference co-champion with Watertown, with her pitching and hitting from the cleanup spot.
She was 21-2 with a 1.54 ERA and six shutouts, totaling 211 strikeouts in 145 innings. She hit a team-high .481 with eight doubles, seven triples, four home runs, 28 RBIs, 29 runs scored and a .922 slugging percentage.
Bobak, a right-hander, is one of the state finalists for WisSports.net’s senior pitcher of the year award.
“There definitely aren’t many opportunities for hitters when ‘Liv’ is pitching,” Tostrud said. “So, we have to make sure we are solid behind her when we have a chance to make (defensive) plays. I think, for the most part, we have been.”
Bobak relies on a 62 mph fastball and 50 mph changeup but also has a riseball, curveball and screwball in her arsenal, Monroe coach Joe O’Leksy said.
“She’s mentally more tough on the mound (this season),” O’Leksy said. “She’s not always going to have her best stuff. But she seems to battle through.”
Bobak will face some heavy hitters from New Berlin West, which has a collective .428 batting average and features junior catcher Kat Burkhardt, who’s hit 16 homers and knocked in 52 runs.
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Bobak, No. 5 hitter Tostrud (.434, 10 doubles, four homers, 34 RBIs), sophomore shortstop Sydney Updike (.404, nine doubles, 29 runs scored, 23 RBIs) and senior outfielder Hailey Betthauser (.375, six homers, 28 runs scored) lead Monroe, which hits .364 as a team.
“I think we play together well,” said Updike, who, along with Bobak, was a first-team all-conference selection in the Badger South. “I feel like everybody is always picking each other up. That helps a lot.”
Said Tostrud, who played basketball this winter with Updike on Monroe’s state runner-up basketball team: “Our whole lineup contributed. There were games when some of our better hitters weren’t hitting very well and the rest of our team contributed.”
O’Leksy said the Cheesemakers set goals to win conference, regional and sectional championships and to reach the state tournament.
They played a demanding schedule, which O’Leksy said included 16 Division 1 teams and featured 15 of their victories against teams with winning records. They had two losses apiece to Oak Creek and Watertown (Bobak wasn’t available against Watertown, he said).
“There were a few bumps in the road, but we just had to do our best to get over them,” said Bobak, who plans to study education and play softball at Madison Area Technical College. “We had a lot of close games. We played a lot of good teams. We did whatever we could to win. Whether it was long ball or small ball, we found a way to win.”
O’Leksy said the Cheesemakers learned a lesson entering this season “that we weren’t going to take anybody for granted” after suffering an upset loss to fifth-seeded Delavan-Darien in the Division 2 sectional semifinals last year.
“It was a very tough sectional (this season),” Bobak said. “What was going through my head was, ‘I had to hit my spots and take it one out at a time.’ Each batter, I thought of it as a new challenge.”
Monroe, which was seeded third for postseason this year, navigated a difficult road that included winning at second-seeded and eighth-ranked Jefferson 4-2 in a regional final and at top-seeded and second-ranked Whitnall 7-4 in a sectional semifinal. Monroe then edged McFarland 4-3 in the sectional title game in Evansville.
“We just took it on the road,” O’Leksy said. “It’s even tougher on the road. That gave us more experience and the experience we needed to get past McFarland. … I was very proud of this group. They persevered all year. If Bobak wasn’t pitching real well, we hit the ball really well. She took over if we weren’t hitting well, and closed them out. … At this time of year, everyone has to contribute.”
Monroe won the Division 2 state title in 2003 under Wisconsin Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach Dale Buvid. The Cheesemakers will make their eighth state appearance and first directed by O’Leksy, who served as Monroe’s JV coach for 21 years prior to taking over in 2016 after Buvid retired.
“I think it will be fun,” Bobak said. “Obviously, there are good teams there if they made it to state. We are going to play our hearts out just like we have been and leave it all on the field.”