One swing of the bat could have derailed Oakfield High School’s softball season and its chance to defend last season’s championship.
Instead, the Oaks are headed back to Madison to try to win their third state title in four years.
In a sectional final game tied at 1-1 last week against Burlington Catholic Central, Hilltoppers pitcher Rebekah Shellberg lined a 2-2 pitch from Oakfield senior standout Ashley Holz over the fence on a line to center field. The Hilltoppers knocked three hits in the inning and put the Oaks behind 2-1. Oakfield could have gone into panic mode after witnessing a rare occurrence when their star lefty got hit.
“She didn’t have her top stuff. I can say that definitely,” said Oakfield coach Mike Urban after the game. “That’s the sign of a good pitcher when you don’t have your good stuff and you can still work through it. She struggled with her change (up), and it was one of the very few times this year she’s struggled with it. Hopefully it will be back Friday; we’ll need it.”
The Oaks play De Soto at 11 a.m. Friday in the second Division 4 state semifinal of the day.
Instead of getting rattled when facing a deficit, the Oaks took the lead right back in the bottom half of the third when they scored two runs. They went on to win 5-2.
“I’m not the type of pitcher who gets all upset if I give one up that goes over the fence,” said Holz, who has given up two homers this season and four for her entire four-year pitching career at Oakfield. “I just tip my hat to the batter. If you’re going to hit a home run, then it’s going to be a good hit. If they hit one, I let it go and move on.”
That’s easy for her to say because she’s in control of the ball, but what about her teammates, who haven’t seen a whole lot of Holz getting hit, those who count on her to lead with her left arm?
“When that ball was hit I knew it was going out, so there’s not much you can do,” said senior tri-captain Kasey Cook. “I never lost faith in my team. I knew we had to fight back. In order to win games we have to score more runs anyway.”
And there is the question. Can Oakfield win another championship if Holz isn’t at the top of her game?
“I’ll be the first to admit that I definitely don’t do it by myself,” said Holz, who will be attending UW-Green Bay next season on a softball scholarship. “Softball is a team effort, completely. Unless a pitcher can strike everybody out then it’s mostly her, but I’m not up a the plate hitting, so we still have to hit the ball and score runs.”
Truth be told, Holz can win games almost single-handedly as her 0.38 ERA and 173 strikeouts going into Friday would prove. But is there enough offense if Oakfield is wrapped up in a close game either Friday or in Saturday’s state final which could possibly be against Tigerton, the team that Oakfield beat 3-2 in last year’s state semifinal?
Urban expressed concern about his offense after a 10-5, five-inning victory over Manitowoc Lutheran in the sectional semifinal. The Oaks’ bats haven’t been as effective as in the past, but they’re still hitting .312 as a team, only three points behind De Soto. Tigerton is hitting .391 as a team and the fourth team in the field, Thorp, is at .370.
“We’ve struggled hitting here and there,” Cook said. “That game we hit, but (Manitowoc Lutheran) also had errors. If they wouldn’t have had errors we wouldn’t have gotten that many runs.
“We really have to concentrate and have a disciplined strike zone.”
Cook, the second baseman, hit .341 out of the No. 2 spot in the order. Holz leads the team at .465 from the clean-up spot, and junior shortstop Charlotte Pegram bats .463 out of the three hole.
Holz said she doesn’t worry about the team’s hitting because the batting order has stayed the same, and each batter’s approach has been what the Oaks are looking for as a team.
“It’s funny because every state trip I’ve had so far, the girls who were in hitting slumps got out of the slump (at State),” Holz said. “There’s more pressure at State, but they do better.”
Perhaps Goodman Diamond holds some magic for the Oaks. There was no shortage of hitting last year in Oakfield’s 8-3 drilling of McDonnell Central in the final: the Oaks collected nine hits. In the 2009 championship, Holz threw the first perfect game in WIAA State Tournament history and the Oaks beat Thorp, 6-0.