On a team led by standout pitcher Maddie Gardner and loaded with productive hitters, Sun Prairie softball coach Jamie Olson thinks senior left fielder Skylar Muller doesn’t receive enough attention.
Muller will following her performance Thursday.
“She’s silent but deadly, that’s what I’m saying,” Olson said. “She’s underestimated in regards to what she can do. She’s that quiet kid. She doesn’t get much recognition. She made up for it today.”
Muller drove in five runs — including the tying and go-ahead runs — as the undefeated Cardinals rallied for an 8-4 victory over Appleton North in a WIAA Division 1 quarterfinal Thursday at the University of Wisconsin’s Goodman Diamond.
“I can say this game is at the top of the list,” Muller, who batted cleanup, said when asked where the game ranked in her prep career.
Muller’s RBI single to right-center tied the game at 4 in the top of the sixth inning and her one-out bases-loaded triple to right-center cleared the bases in the seventh, propelling the top-seeded Cardinals (27-0) to a 7-4 lead. Senior catcher Erin Vertz’s run-scoring single capped Sun Prairie’s four-run seventh.
“It felt good,” Muller said. “I saw that the center fielder (Niki Van Wyk) had a pretty good read on it and I saw it tip off her glove. And I said, ‘We’ve got this!’ I knew we had fast runners in front of me and if I just made contact they would score, no matter what.”
Muller drove in the game’s first run in the first inning for the Big Eight Conference champion Cardinals, who increased their lead to 2-0 against Lightning starting pitcher Marissa Mullen in the fourth.
Appleton North (20-8) took a 4-2 lead after scoring four runs in the fourth inning. The Lightning struck; they collected four hits and were aided by three consecutive walks in an inning Gardner said became her greatest struggle all season.
Sun Prairie, unaccustomed to trailing, battled back with single runs in the fifth and sixth — prior to erupting in the seventh. Gardner, after her rough inning in the circle, began the fifth inning with a triple and scored on senior Rachel Jackson’s groundout.
“Coming up to bat after that inning, I knew how important it was to get on base and keep my teammates up,” said Gardner, a sophomore who wound up striking out nine and walking five. “I just wanted to get them going and get those runs back.”
Cardinals senior shortstop Katie Tews singled leading off the sixth, stole second and scored on Muller’s game-tying single.
With one out in the seventh, Sun Prairie senior third baseman Schyler Ek and junior center fielder Sabrina Reuter each singled and Tews walked, setting the stage for Muller’s decisive triple.
“I do love that situation,” said Muller, who plans to attend UW-Oshkosh, but isn’t sure whether she will try out for softball. “I don’t think too much and I just do what I can for the team.”
Muller said even though the Cardinals hadn’t trailed much and certainly not late in games this season, they did practice such situations this week.
“We always say, ‘Just act like it’s 0-0.’ … We just came back and (said), ‘This is a new game, a new inning,’ ’’ said Muller, who entered Thursday with the team’s second-best batting average (.538) and tied with Tews for the RBI lead (42).
Appleton North coach Mike Mullen anticipated Sun Prairie would fight back.
“You know nobody at this stage is going to go, ‘Oh, shucks, we’re losing,’ and give up in that situation,” Mullen said, adding: “One of the things is: How are they going to handle that situation? And to their credit they handled it very well. We knew the last nine outs would not be easy and it turned out that way.”
Sun Prairie will play Menomonee Falls (22-4) at 7 p.m. today in a semifinal, meaning the Cardinals’ eight seniors will miss the school’s graduation ceremony at Dane County Coliseum. However, a ceremony is scheduled for the seniors earlier today at the high school.
“I don’t mind because that means I don’t have to sit through 500 names being called,” Muller said, laughing.
Muller helped make sure the Cardinals, eliminated in the quarterfinals last year, had another game to play.
“It means a lot, especially for this team,” Muller said. “All but two starters are seniors. We have a core group. This is our last hurrah for us seniors.”
Sun Prairie 100 111 4 — 8 10 1
Appleton North 000 400 0 — 4 5 2
SUN PRAIRIE (ab-r-h-rbi) — Sc. Ek 3b 4-2-2-0; Reuter cf 4-1-2-0; Tews ss 2-2-1-0; Muller lf 4-1-2-5; Herwig 1b 3-1-0-0; Vertz c 4-0-2-1; Si. Ek pr 0-0-0-0; Westphal 2b 4-0-0-0; Radlund pr 0-0-0-0; Gardner p 4-0-1-0; Meyers pr 0-1-0-0; Jackson rf 2-0-0-1. Totals 31-8-10-7.
APPLETON NORTH — Fritz lf 4-0-1-1; Salm 1b 4-0-1-1; Mullen p 4-0-2-1; Simon pr 0-0-0-0; Allison 3b 3-0-0-0; Isom c 4-1-1-0; Krueger ss 4-0-0-0; Van Wyk cf 1-1-0-0; Hiltunen rf 2-1-0-0; Pope dh 2-1-0-1; Dvoracek 2b 0-0-0-0. Totals 28-4-5-4.
Pitchers (ip-h-er-bb-so) — SP: Gardner (W; 7-5-4-5-9); AN: Mullen (L; 7-10-7-3-2).
3B — Gardner, Muller. SAC — Jackson. SB — Tews 2, Muller, Si. Ek. E — Tews; Krueger, Dvoracek. DP — AN 1. LOB — SP 6; AN 8. WP — Gardner 2. PB — Vertz 2; Isom.