MADISON — Algoma softball coach Terry Dart didn’t mince words when addressing his team prior to its second WIAA Division 3 state appearance in program history Friday.
Sure, the team faced long odds of dethroning defending state champion Poynette in a semifinal, but the Wolves also had nothing to lose as the underdog to the top-ranked Pumas.
Keeping things light off the field, upset-minded Algoma never lost that notion on it. Although they came up short in their bid to topple D3’s kingpin, the Wolves (23-5) gave Poynette more than it bargained for during a 6-4 loss at Goodman Diamond on the University of Wisconsin campus.
Last year, Poynette (26-1) cruised to its third state title after standout pitcher Kirsten Tomlinson registered two shutouts.
After amassing more than 200 strikeouts this season, Tomlinson was on the mound Friday. The Wolves struck first with one run in the first inning and kept things tight until the Pumas broke a 3-3 tie with a three-run fifth inning.
“They believed — they truly believed — if we came out and played our game that we’d be in that championship game,” Dart said of his team. “It was huge in that first inning to get that run and that confidence. As a team if you go down 1-0 right away, you might fold sometimes, but even when we were down 6-3, our kids had no quit.”
It might have been the Wolves’ first state appearance in eight years, but they felt battle-tested against state-caliber pitching after matching up with Oconto Falls’ McKenna Larsen, Southern Door’s McKayla Dantoin and Three Lakes’ Zana Lorbetske during the season.
That experience showed in the first when sophomore Meg Ryan drove in Courtney Dart to take an early lead. The Pumas pulled ahead with three runs during the next two innings, but Algoma answered with a two-run fourth after Ryan scored on a throwing error and Tanika Jorgenson scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at 3.
Poynette finished with one more hit than Algoma’s eight, and the difference came in the bottom of the fifth when the Pumas capitalized on a couple of Wolves errors to produce three unanswered and return to the state finals.
Algoma, which finished with five errors, made an attempt to comeback in the seventh with back-to-back singles, and were able to score one run when Dart grounded out to drive in Jordan Demmin.
Dart and Ryan each finished 2-for-4 with an RBI and run scored, while Tomlinson allowed eight hits for the Pumas with two-earned runs and five strikeouts in seven innings.
“State is everything a player would dream for,” said Courtney Dart, the Packerland Conference player of the year who struck out four on the mound. “For our team to make it is something so special because we proved ourselves wrong this season. We’ve also proved to ourselves what we’re made of. I couldn’t be any more proud of these girls because they’ve been behind me 100 percent.”
Algoma graduates three seniors including Dart, shortstop Amanda Mura and second baseman Kaylee Pieschek and has plenty left for another run. The Wolves had five freshmen on the varsity squad and return junior Tanika Jorgenson, who was the Wolves’ starting pitcher before a torn labrum sidelined her in 2010 and forced Dart to move from the infield to the mound.
The loss ends Dart’s softball career and a special bond between father and daughter that saw the Darts make a yearly summit to the state softball tournament as spectators until finally qualifying as a team this season.
“It’s emotional because it’s been a passion for her,” said Coach Dart. “You hope you get there, the last two years we made it to sectionals, and this year we were able to make it happen. As a coach, I’m proud because she’s a leader of the group, but as a dad, I’m very satisfied she got that opportunity.”