PRAIRIE DU SAC — After struggling at the plate for the first five innings, Joia Simonson knew something good was coming the Portage softball team’s way.
The junior shortstop was right and provided the lift the Warriors needed, lacing a two-out, two-run homer in the sixth inning to help propel Portage to a 2-1 win over Sauk Prairie in a Badger North Conference game Tuesday night.
“We enjoy hitting, we’re not scared of striking out and we’re going up there ready to hit instead of being scared,” Simonson said.
Trailing 1-0 heading into the top of the sixth, the Warriors were quickly saddled with two outs as sophomores McKenzie Brown and Brianna Brander struck out to open the frame. Looking to avoid a 1-2-3 inning, Portage junior Olivia Limmex worked an eight-pitch at-bat before sneaking a double down the right-field line.
With a runner in scoring position, Simonson made sure not to waste the chance, turning on a 2-1 pitch and crushing a shot to center field for a 2-1 lead. Simonson said being able to watch several pitches with Limmex at the plate was key.
“She does that a lot,” Simonson said with a chuckle. “It’s nice knowing what I’m seeing, what’s working for the pitcher and what she’s going to.”
Portage (14-4, 9-3 Badger North) had a chance to add to its lead in the top of the seventh after Nicole Weiss led off the inning an infield single. The senior attempted to steal second base but was caught, and senior Hanne Anderson followed with a groundout.
An infield single by senior by Erin Kibby kept the inning alive and courtesy runner Lauren Pace reached second on a wild pitch, but the junior was stranded after Brown went down looking. Down to their last three outs, the Eagles (8-8, 3-7) had a chance of their own in the home half of the inning.
No. 2 hitter Macey McIntyre reached on an error to start the inning and advanced to second on the overthrow to put the game-tying run in scoring position with no outs. Portage starter Meghan Witt thwarted any chance at a comeback, however, as the senior left-hander struck out the next three batters to end the game.
Witt and the Warriors got into trouble early as Sauk Prairie took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. After back-to-back strikeouts to open the inning, Witt left a pitch up in the zone and junior Regin Suchla made her pay by launching a solo home run.
Witt responded however, holding the Eagles without a hit the rest of the game, including a stretch where she retired 16 straight. The UW-Eau Claire recruit finished with 16 strikeouts, allowing just one run on one hit with no walks in the complete-game win.
“Just trusting everybody behind me and going to work I guess, trusting the pitches, calming down and relaxing,” Witt said of the strong response.
“As a senior, that’s what we expect from Meghan,” Wampler added. “We’re 100 percent behind her defensively; we know we have to make plays and Meg is going to make the pitches she needs to make and keep batters off balance.”
While Witt kept the Eagles on their toes, the Warriors struggled against Sauk Prairie starter Kayla Breunig. She no-hit Portage until Limmex’s double in the sixth, but the Warriors believed if they kept pounding away, they could get to her.
“She has good movement on her pitch, so when she starts getting tired, it doesn’t move as much and that’s when we really started to hit more solid,” Simonson said of Breunig, who struck out nine and allowed two runs on four hits and one walk in the complete-game loss.
The grind-it-out win helps the Warriors pad their WIAA tournament resume ahead of Wednesday’s Division 2 seeding meeting and provided valuable experience for a team that hasn’t been in many pressure situations this year. Witt said the Warriors’ resolve is an example of how the team sticks together.
“Even when things might get tough or scary out there, we just always calm each other down,” she said. “We come down back to the fundamentals of playing good defense, trusting each other and getting the outs when we need to.”
PORTAGE 2, SAUK PRAIRIE 1
Portage 000 002 0 — 2 4 1
Sauk Prairie 100 000 0 — 1 1 4
Pitchers — (ip-h-er-bb-so) — Por — Witt (W; 7-1-1-0-16). SP — K. Breunig (L; 7-4-2-1-9).
Leading Hitters — Por — none. 2B — Limmex. HR — Simonson. SP — none. HR — Suchla.