After a walk-off and a seventh-inning comeback for its last two wins in the Section 1A playoffs, the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown softball team continued its resilient ways during Thursday’s Section 1A championship against Wabasha-Kellogg at Todd Park in Austin.
Entering the final half inning of a winner-take-all matchup trailing by four runs, the Buccaneers scored twice and brought the winning run to the plate.
The magic ran out one or two hits short, however, as Wabasha-Kellogg claimed a 4-2 victory after winning 9-1 earlier in the day to force Thursday’s decisive second matchup.
After the Buccaneers beat the Falcons on Tuesday afternoon in the winner’s bracket final with three runs in the top of the seventh, it appeared WEM had Wabasha-Kellogg pitcher Julia Schmoker timed up entering Thursday’s championship.
Schmoker brought another level for the final two games, allowing only one earned run and nine hits across 14 innings while striking out nine batters.
“She’s a great pitcher,” WEM coach Crystal Lamont said. “She moves it around, she’s got a great rise ball and a good changeup, so she just keeps you guessing a little bit and kept us off. I thought we were hitting her toward the end the other night, so I was confident in how we would come out tonight, but she pitched another fabulous two games.”
In the first game, senior Ellie Ready produced the only run for the Buccaneers with a solo home run in the bottom of the third to put her team up 1-0. The Falcons scored the next and final nine runs of the first game, aided by four WEM errors.
The defense was much sharper to start the second game. Senior first baseman Lindsay Condon threw behind the runner at second base to complete a double play after completing an out at first base on a bunt. Senior shortstop Brielle Bartelt finished that top of the first with a diving catch to take away a single and a run from Wabasha-Kellogg.
The offense was unable to take advantage, however. After Ready’s first-inning single, the Buccaneers did not record another hit until Bartelt’s single to start the rally in the seventh.
That resulted in a premature end to the season and high school careers for WEM’s six-player senior class, which includes Ready, Bartelt, Condon, Autumn Taylor, Allison Rients and Kylie Pittmann.
With all six of those seniors also playing at least one of volleyball and girls basketball, they helped create the most successful stretch of WEM girls sports history.
“I just told these girls these seniors have cemented the culture at our school in all three sports,” Lamont said. “It takes a while to build, but we’ve been building a strong tradition and a great culture of family and staying together as a team. I told them that now it’s cemented thanks to this kind of leadership and showing the young girls what it takes with the grit, the determination and always being there for their sisters.”
In the spring of 2019, the softball team qualified for the program’s first state tournament. That fall, the volleyball team soared to second place in the state, and in March 2020 the girls basketball team won the program’s first section title and advanced to the Class A state semifinals.
The run in the state basketball tournament was cut short due to COVID-19. That also wiped out that spring’s softball season, in which the Buccaneers graduated just one senior from the year before and looked poised to return to another state tournament.
In the fall of 2020, the volleyball team never lost — including a victory against the Minneota team that topped WEM in the 2019 state championship. The Buccaneers did not have a chance to carry that momentum into the state tournament, however, since it was also cancelled due to COVID-19.
“It’s out of our hands,” said Lamont, who also coaches the volleyball team. “We just had our volleyball banquet a few weeks ago, I squeezed that in when we had a rainout. These girls, they just keep rolling with the punches and they’re just an amazing group. It just breaks my heart they didn’t get to do all they were capable of. They were just rolling, and then COVID came and put it to a stop. I’m disappointed for them, but I know they’re only going to use this and grow and be stronger down the road, because they’re just an amazing group that’s going to be successful in everything they do.”