Softball: Cardinals cash in on H.E.A.R.T for long-awaited regional title
Winning a WIAA regional title topped the list of priorities for the Prescott softball team's seniors at the beginning of the 2018 season.
The six seniors were sick of watching their softball seasons come to an end in the second round of playoffs and wanted to get past the decade-long hump before they closed the door on Prescott athletics in their final season with their head coach, Matt Smith.
The seniors and their underclassmen, who shared the same goal, were able to cross winning a regional title off of their bucket list on Friday, May 25 when they defeated the Neillsville/Granton Warriors in a 10-0 six-inning regional final game.
"Great," were the words the Cardinals used to describe how they felt about their attained goal after shutting out the No. 4-seeded Warriors and hoisting up their regional plaque.
"We just went out and we knew what we needed to do, and we did it so well," senior Haley Miner said. "I'm just so proud of the team."
"No matter how much we were winning, we kept the energy consistent," senior Hope Miner said. "There wasn't anything like, 'Oh, now we can be casual because we're winning.'"
The Cardinals put up a five-run first inning, then kept their intensity alive in the top of the second, which featured two Kaili Wescott strikeouts and a Hope pick-off at first. Katelyn Miller shot a double to left field in the bottom of the second then advanced to home on two fielder's choice plays.
In the third, senior Shelby Murphy brought in freshman Bella Lenz to take a 7-0 lead before the Cardinals produced another three up, three down frame in the top of the fourth. Miller returned to the plate to start the bottom of the fourth and found success in left field once again, but this time she placed the ball over the left field fence to extend her team's lead to 8-0. Wescott followed Miller and managed a base hit before Morgan Severson came in as her pinch runner and scored Presott's ninth run on a Mackenzie Carey sacrifice bunt.
After a scoreless fifth inning for both teams, the Cardinals retired the Warriors one final time in the top of the sixth with two pop ups and a groundout before they cashed in on their regional title in the final frame of the game.
Wescott walked in the bottom of the sixth, allowing Severson to claim the go-ahead run once Haley Miner reached on an error at first.
The Cardinals became regional champions with 11 hits in less than seven innings and were led by Lenz, Wescott, Haley and Miller who all recorded two hits on the night.
Wescott recorded eight strikeouts in the circle and only allowed two hits in the six-inning regional game, which coach Smith described as one of the best performances of her career.
"We just kept a level head," Wescott said. "We didn't come into this game thinking they were worse than us just because of their seeding. We just played like we always do, and that helped us a lot."
Playing like they always do means having fun and sharing laughs on the field, while using their confidence, well-rounded skill sets and relying on their season-long motto of H.E.A.R.T — Health, Effort, Attitude, Respect and Trust — when things go awry.
In March, the seniors shared their H.E.A.R.T season theme with the Herald, promising that they'd live up to it throughout the season.
"Mr. Smith told us we couldn't give out paper lines," senior Sammi Zuehlsdorf said. "We couldn't just say something in the paper then just have it not mean anything."
"He told us afterwards, 'That's in writing." Murphy said. "'Now you have to live up to that.'"
"There are a lot of lines out there, whether they're corporations' mission statements or team goals," Smith said, "but it's all about accountability. It's easy to pack it in when you face some adversity."
The Cardinals remained undefeated for most of their season until May 12 when they dropped their first game to Elk Mound due to uncharacteristic fielding errors, which was when their H.E.A.R.T faced its toughest test.
"I would go as far to say that that loss was probably one of the best things that could have happened to us," Haley said. "All three of the losses taught us how to persevere and bounce back."
Now, the Cardinals are 20-3 as they head into their Tuesday, May 29 sectional semifinal game against the No. 2 Altoona Railroaders (19-6) who beat Elk Mound 4-2 to advance to sectionals.
Prescott is overjoyed with its regional title, but anyone who thinks they're content with just getting to sectional semifinals is wrong.
"Every time we put those cleats on, we know that every game could be our last," Wescott said.
"Smith always says play Prescott softball, and that's what we'll do," Haley said. "We're not stopping."
"To finally break through and find a regional title win at home, to come out and play the way we did and get the 'W', I'm just very proud of everyone all together," Smith said. "Now, it's just coming down to execution and who gets hot and stays hot at the right time.
"Now we have to go out and just get hungrier. If we come out and play Prescott softball, I like our chances."
The Cardinals will host the Railroaders at Malone Intermediate Field on Tuesday, May 29 at 5 p.m.