MADISON — Making its third straight trip to WIAA state tournament and looking for its first state championship, the Blair-Taylor High School softball team was hoping the third time would be the charm.
But much like their previous two trips to Madison, some untimely errors were the undoing of the Wildcats. Blair-Taylor committed four errors in the sixth inning, allowing Belmont to score six runs — five of which were unearned — to break a scoreless tie on its way to a 7-1 victory in the Division 5 state championship game Saturday morning at Goodman Diamond.
“It’s the bugaboo of state for us. We have that one bad inning where we have errors,” said Blair-Taylor coach Greg Bratina, whose team has finished as runner-up twice in the past three years. “We knew Belmont liked to be aggressive, just like us. We just said, ‘Let’s keep them off the base paths, then they can’t play that game.’
“Unfortunately, we let them get on the base paths and let them play their game a bit, and we didn’t react the way I hoped. We just couldn’t make some of those plays.”
Blair-Taylor (28-1) played flawless early on, as junior pitcher Lauren Steien was perfect through three innings and faced just one over the minimum through five. But things went south in a hurry in the sixth.
After a strikeout to open the sixth, Belmont’s No. 9 hitter Bridgett Miesen hit a grounder to shortstop Danyelle Waldera, whose throw to first was in the dirt, allowing Miesen to reach safely. That brought up the top of the order, and Sadie Willborn singled to center to put runners on first and second.
Peyton Johnson then put down a sacrifice bunt that was fielded by third baseman Cierra Curran, but her throw to first sailed into right field, allowing Miesen to score to make it 1-0. The relay throw to the plate on the play was also wild, allowing both runners to move up to second and third, which was key, because both runners scored on Nikki Knebel’s hot shot to left field to make it 3-0.
The Braves (25-2) added two more runs on a RBI bunt single by Abby Althaus and a sacrifice fly by McKenzie Reuter to make it 5-0. Blair-Taylor’s fourth error of the inning allowed Belmont to make it 6-0.
Blair-Taylor got one of those runs back in the bottom of the sixth when Ari Charles reached on a throwing error before scoring on Lauren Kidd’s double to left-center field.
Belmont responded with a run in the seventh on an RBI double by Johnson to make it 7-1.
The Wildcats tried to mount one last rally in the bottom of the seventh when Steien singled to open the inning and Isabel Berg beat out an infield single with two outs, but it wasn’t meant to be, as Belmont pitcher Sadie Willborn got Marlee Nehring to pop up to the catcher for the final out of the game.
Blair-Taylor had a chance to take a lead in the bottom of the first inning when Kidd drew a one-out walk, but she would be left stranded on third.
Steien retired 10 straight batters to open the game, before giving up a one-out double to Johnson in the fourth. Johnson’s time on the bases didn’t last long, as the Wildcats would turn a double play to get out of the inning. On the play, Knebel flew out to Charles in center field, who then threw a bullet to third base to easily nab Johnson, who was trying to tag up on the play.
The play helped keep the game scoreless, where it remained until the nightmare sixth inning for the Wildcats.
“It was a pitchers’ duel up to that point, it really was going back and forth,” Bratina said. “Unfortunately, we flinched first, and it snowballed from there.
“Once it starts, it’s hard to stop them.”
Blair-Taylor’s third trip to the state tournament finishes with the program’s second runner-up finish, something that Bratina said the players should be proud of.
“These girls, I think they really showed the communities what they are and what they’re going to leave behind,” Bratina said. “They got nothing to be ashamed of, so much to be proud of.”