Blink, and you might miss a Waterville-Elysian-Morristown softball player move up an extra base.
In the bottom of the first inning of Monday's 12-1 five-inning victory against Hayfield (8-9, 6-7), WEM (16-3, 12-1) jumped out to an early 1-0 lead after senior Autumn Taylor led off with an RBI double and came around to score on senior Ellie Ready's bunt single, on which there was no error but the play at the plate still wasn't all that close.
That type of aggressiveness has served the Buccaneers well, as Monday's victory marked the 13th in a row after starting the season 3-3.
The win also secured WEM at least a share of its second consecutive Gopher Conference title, although an outright crown will have to wait until after it either meets Hayfield again in the Section 1A tournament or the two teams schedule an additional game, since NRHEG sits at 12-2 in the conference with an additional game played.
“The work that we put in, that’s what we knew we needed to get done,” Ready said about winning the Gopher Conference.
“It feels really good," senior Lindsay Condon added. "We’ve been working hard in practice and our effort in practice is really paying off.”
That conference title also completes the female championship quintuplet to go along with the conference championships from the volleyball team, girls basketball team and girls track and field team, plus the Gopher Conference title from the WEM/JWP girls cross country team.
The Buccaneers picked up Monday's win with the help of two runs in each of the bottom of the second and third innings, before the stealthy baserunning combined with the powerful home runs of Ready and Condon to help WEM score seven runs in the bottom of the fourth.
That was more than enough support for junior pitcher Gloria Cortez, who pitched all five innings and allowed only four hits and an unearned run in the top of the third.
“That is a nice comfort to have," WEM coach Crystal Lamont said about the power surge. "Lindsay’s been hitting for power for quite a while now. Ellie had a couple home runs her sophomore season and hasn’t quite shown that this year, but it’s great to see her get going heading into playoffs.”
That power stroke also manifested itself in a pair of doubles from senior Brielle Bartelt, and one double apiece from Allison Rients, Condon, Autumn Taylor and Addyson Taylor, and continues a torrid offensive stretch.
In six of their last 10 games, the Buccaneers have scored at least 10 runs, with the exceptions a 9-2 win against Medford (6-13), an 8-2 win against Kenyon-Wanamingo (0-18), and 5-1 and 4-1 victories against Maple River (11-8) and NRHEG (18-2) that helped secure part of the conference crown.
"Our bats are starting to roll, so that’s a good sign going into playoffs,” Ready said.
The Section 1A playoffs started for most teams Tuesday afternoon, but WEM earned a first-round bye thanks to its No. 1 seed in the west subsection. Instead, the Buccaneers start the postseason Thursday afternoon at home against the winner of Tuesday's clash between fourth-seeded Blooming Prairie (7-12) and fifth-seeded Southland (7-11).
Hayfield awaits on the opposite side of the subsection bracket as the No. 2 seed, while No. 3 seed Glenville-Emmons/Alden-Conger (12-7) is the only other squad in the subsection with a winning record.
Wabasha-Kellogg (10-10) and Fillmore Central/Lanesboro (4-15) are the top two seeds in the east portion of the Section 1A bracket, the winner of which is slated to battle the winner of the west bracket June 8 at Austin Todd Park in Austin. The winner of that game then meets the winner of the loser's bracket June 10 in Austin, needing to win only one of two games to advance to the Class A state tournament.
After Monday's win — which in addition to the baserunning and power included a first-inning double play and a runner thrown out at the plate from the outfield — Lamont likes the direction the Buccaneers are trending.
“I told them that’s exactly what we need headed into playoffs," Lamont said. "You never know how the pitching is going to go, but we need to keep doing the little things and the girls were aggressive on the bases, which we’re going to need to do to score some runs. Lining up the cutoffs on the throw home, that’s something we’ve done a few times this year and we’ve worked hard on, so that’s great to see that come into play in the game."