Homestead's Dave Keel is retiring from the classroom this school year, but not from the coaches' box in either softball or football where he is an unqualified success.
And he's definitely not taking a leave of absence from his most important job as Dad.
That's why he spent a long time hugging both senior first baseman Siena Mitman and his daughter/four-year starting catcher Amy immediately after the Highlanders 3-0 WIAA state quarterfinal softball loss to Kenosha Bradford Thursday afternoon at the Goodman Diamond in Madison.
That's because he's going to miss his daughter very much when she goes off to St. Louis University this fall to major in business.
"Much too far away," he said with a laugh in a recent conversation. "I may have to rent an apartment in St. Louis to keep an eye on her."
His wife Pam just rolled her eyes and laughed at the puckish nature of her husband's good-natured, but not very serious threat.
And threats, and the lack of them, were all about why the Highlanders (17-9) Cinderella-run to the state tournament ended so quickly. These were not the Mequon Mashers of last season which smashed people left and right en route to a berth in the state finals.
This was a more spit and bailing wire and true grit kind of unit that was grateful for every run it earned. That's why Coach Keel was so flummoxed at what happened in the second inning of the then scoreless game Thursday.
Outfielder Megan Bailey (who got on base all three times this day, including two walks), launched a light flare of a single to start the inning. That was followed by two pop-up bunts by outfielder Hannah Young and shortstop Laura Podolske that fell in safely amid the Red Devil defenders for base hits.
The bases were loaded with none out, but with the bottom of the Highlander order coming up, Bradford pitcher Ali Brems got motivated. She caught Sami Wolniakowski looking and then got both Andrea Savitch and Emily Sweet swinging to end the threat.
Homestead would get a runner to third in the third inning before a strikeout ended that chance, but following that could get no one beyond first.
"That was the inning (the second)," said Keel. "We had to find a way to plate a run and we couldn't get it done. Give credit to Brems. She got tough and we also helped with some swings that weren't our best."
"We would have liked to have had our one-two-three hitters up at that point, but the kids that went up there gave it their best shots."
And when the Red Devils (26-2), who won their 21st game in a row with the decision, plated two runs on two hits with the help of two walks and a hit batsmen in their half of the second, that's all Brems (10 strikeouts and three walks) would need.
Bradford coach John P. Ruffolo had confidence that Brems could extricate herself from the tight squeeze in the second.
"She's a great pitcher (0.35 ERA on the season) and we knew our best chance to get out of a jam like that was to rely on her," he said. "They hit three in-between balls, a bloop and two bunts. We came up short on them defensively."
"When I went out to talk to her (Brems) I just told her to take them one at a time. She was throwing well and I knew she could pitch to that part of the order."
The third inning Homestead threat consisted of a one-out double by Amy Keel and a two-out walk to Bailey. But another Brems' strikeout ended the opportunity.
Homestead junior Rachel Behnken, the star hurler of the state run last year, who was coming off a back surgery in the off-season, did not pitch badly after that second inning. She got a line-drive doubleplay that was handled niftily by the second baseman Savitch to end one threat in the third and got two pop-ups to end a two-on, one-out situation in the fourth.
She did give up a Bradford insurance run in the fifth, but still finished strong, putting down the last four Red Devil batters in a row. She finished with three strikeouts and four walks.
"I was very proud of her," said Coach Keel of Behnken. "She's done so much for the team this year. She really stepped up to the challenge down the stretch."
And so did Brems, as she put down the last six Homestead batters in a row.
"One of the hallmarks of this team this year is that we always seem to be a mistake or two ahead of our opposition," said Ruffolo. "We're doing that a lot better than we have in the past."
The Southeast Conference champion Red Devils will now look forward to an 8 p.m. Friday night state semifinal against Kenosha County rival Wilmot (24-1), a 10-0 winner over Oconomowoc.
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