PRAIRIE DU SAC — The Sauk Prairie and Portage softball teams are no strangers to playing tough games against each other, with six of the last 10 meetings being decided by three runs or fewer.
That was again the case Tuesday night as the Warriors used a two-run home run by junior Joia Simonson in the sixth inning to clip the Eagles, 2-1, in a Badger North Conference game at Sauk Prairie High School. A pitchers' duel throughout, the teams combined for just five hits, but the two biggest of the night came in the top of the sixth.
Leading 1-0, Sauk Prairie starter Kayla Breunig opened the inning strong with a back-to-back strikeouts. Looking to finish off the 1-2-3 inning, the senior got up early 0-2 on Portage’s Olivia Limmex, but the junior battled through an eight-pitch at bat to sneak 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. While Simonson’s home run gave the Warriors the lead, Sauk Prairie coach Shane Been credited the Limmex at bat for doing the damage.
“Really the at bat of the game was the one before the home run,” he said. “She fouled off, fouled off and fouled off to stay alive and found a pitch. Softball is a game, in this case inches, and she put it in there and got on base.”
With their lead gone, Sauk Prairie (8-8, 3-7 Badger North) thwarted a chance by the Warriors (14-4, 9-3) to add to their lead in the top of the seventh. After Nicole Weiss led off the inning an infield single, the senior was cut down trying to steal second base and senior Hanne Anderson followed with a ground out.
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 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. Sauk Prairie squandered the chance however, as Portage starter Meghan Witt struck out the next three straight batters to shut the door on Eagles’ comeback attempt.
“We had 3-4-5 hitters up with a runner on second and no outs but couldn’t get any contact,” Been said.
Sauk Prairie was able to put Witt and the Warriors in an early hole as the Eagles 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 but launching a solo home run.
Witt responded however, holding the Eagles without a hit the rest of the game, including a stretch of 16-straight retired batters. The UW-Eau Claire recruit finished with 16 strikeouts and one run on one hit with no walks in the complete game win.
“That was our first left-hander this year, so it’s a different release point, but we haven’t seen speed like that for about a week or so and couldn’t make that adjustment,” Been said. “Then she just used the strike zone well and changed speed; she’s an excellent pitcher with good command.”
On the defensive side, the Eagles worked out of some jams, stranding a Warriors’ runner on third in the top of the first and runners on second in the fifth and seventh. Breunig who was no slouch either as the right-hander struck out nine and allowing just two runs on four hits and one walk in the complete game loss.
“Any time your pitcher gives up two runs, you can’t ask for much more there,” Been said. “Especially with some of the errors and stuff that happened behind her, she had excellent focus and excellent work getting through it. We just couldn’t get her enough support on the other side.”
The loss was a second-straight one-run loss for the Eagles, but Been can take away some solace in the defeats. The Eagles started three freshmen and three sophomores against the Warriors, and Been has seen plenty of growth from the young varsity players.
“These are situations we’ve grown in and are important moments,” he said. “We’d love to see Portage again in the playoffs to get another crack at them.”