The members of the Homestead girls softball team were justifiably happy Monday night following their 9-2 win over archrival Germantown, which clinched an unbeaten 14-0 North Shore Conference championship season and probably a number one seed in their WIAA sectional bracket.
But you got the sense that these Highlanders (18-0 overall) were not satisfied yet. This senior-dominated group had gone to state in 2007 and 2008 but had fallen both times in the quarterfinals. Now, with a dominant hitting team, lights-out pitching and a suffocating, technically sound defense, they want more, a lot more.
And they'll find out if their worthy of it starting on Thursday, when they visit Southeast Conference champion and potential state quarterfinal opponent Kenosha Bradford at 4:30 p.m. and then this Saturday, they'll head up to Stevens Point, to take on the two-time state champion Point squad as well as returning state runner-up Chippewa Falls.
"We want to challenge ourselves, we really want to see how we compare," said shortstop Michelle Zoeller.
"We're excited for what's coming next," said third baseman Britt Schlaeger.
And veteran Germantown coach Rich Anderson, who has a state championship of his own under his belt, said that the Highlanders should be.
"Ah, I'm just second-guessing myself here," he said after trying to explain all the little reasons why the youthful Warhawks (11-3, 15-7) came up short in this contest. "They (the Highlanders) just showed how much better than us they are tonight. They definitely hit the ball better, they pitched better and they fielded better. They're the class of our area to be sure."
"They could go a long ways."
But Highlander coach Dave Keel wants his team to keep a narrow and short focus.
"We'll just try to get better every game," as he is fond of saying, "and hopefully give our opponents good games."
The Highlanders followed their normal modus operandi in winning on a sultry night in Germantown: They put pressure on, forced mistakes, and got the big hit.
Zoeller opened the game by getting on by an error and then Schlaeger walked. Following a flyout, Bekah Rennicke singled to load the bases.
Then came the play of the game, as catcher Amy Keel laid down a suicide squeeze. Warhawk pitcher Katie Aumann tried to shovel the ball home, but couldn't come up with it as Zoeller scored easily with the game's first run.
"That was the play of the game," said Anderson. "We come up with that, maybe we can slow them down."
"Our kids can really run the bases well," said Coach Keel. "We can really put the pressure on teams when we want to."
And in short order, the Highlanders added four more runs on a Rachel Behnken single, a wild pitch, an RBI single by Erica Reetz and a sac fly by Hannah Young.
But the Warhawks fought back, as they took advantage of two Behnken walks when outfielder Emily Driscoll slapped a long two-RBI double to left-center to make it 5-2 in the first.
However, that's when Behnken (10 strikeouts and three walks) buckled down, as she allowed only one more walk the rest of the way, retiring 19 of the next 20 batters, including the final 16 in order. She was aided by rock-solid defense that didn't flinch once.
"We have such experience at almost all positions," said Zoeller. "There's just a lot of consistency out there. Even when our pitchers are having an off day (which doesn't happen often), we can pick each other up."
Zoeller (single), Schlaeger (double) and Siena Mitman (groundout) knocked in insurance runs in the fourth and Mitman singled home another run in the sixth.
"This feels great," said Schlaeger afterward. "Very exciting. To go undefeated in conference is a great way to go out. And to finish it here against Germantown just adds to it because last year we had quite a battle with them (Germantown won the league title)."
"This speaks to all the hard work that these kids have put in," Coach Keel said. "We have two great pitchers who can take the hill anytime (including Rennicke) and we have a team that just knows how to win."
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