MADISON — The West De Pere softball team’s improbable journey to its first WIAA Division 2 state softball tournament met its conclusion Thursday.
However, the Phantoms didn’t go without a fight.
Although the lethal combination of Baldwin-Woodville’s bats and sophomore ace Abby Klopp was a bit more than West De Pere could handle, the Phantoms didn’t go quietly in a 7-2 loss to D2’s top-ranked team in a state semifinal at Goodman Diamond.
In a game pitting last year’s D2 runner-up against a Phantoms team that never had won a sectional game before this season, Baldwin-Woodville (27-1) and Klopp lived up to their billing in an 11-strikeout performance.
Still, West De Pere (19-10) managed seven hits and two runs off Klopp, who has only lost twice in her first two seasons and came into state with 17 shutouts in 26 starts, including four during the WIAA tournament series.
The difference in program pedigrees showed in the early going with the Phantoms fighting off the first-time jitters of state while Baldwin-Woodville cranked out five runs through the first three innings.
“I think the first inning, they may have been a little tight and nervous,” West De Pere coach Carrie Jones said. “But they seemed to settle down a little bit in the second half of the game when we started playing our game a little bit. We were solid on defense and that looked more like us the second half.”
However, the initial blast was all the Blackhawks needed to seize control, pushing across three runs during a third inning, where the Phantoms were haunted by two errors and a couple of fielding miscues.
It looked like things might get ugly when the Blackhawks tacked on two more in the fourth, but West De Pere responded in the bottom half with an RBI double from freshman Jennifer Timm, who was driven in by pitcher Emma Leuman on a two-out single to cut the deficit to 7-2.
Leuman and senior first baseman Heidi Van Sistine each had two hits.
On the mound, Leuman countered with six strikeouts while surrendering five earned runs to the Blackhawks, who drove five of their 11 hits for extra bases, including three triples.
“A couple of the girls were really good hitters, they could pretty much hit anything,” Leuman said. “It was hard for me to judge where to pitch it and especially for (catcher) Meagan (Pichler) even calling it behind the plate. It’s hard to pick a spot where they’re not going to hit it.”
Baldwin-Woodville’s bats finally cooled and the Phantoms made one last surge with runners at the corners with one out in the seventh but couldn’t scratch anyone across.
The Phantoms will graduate five seniors who have played a crucial part in the team’s improvement over the last few seasons, including the unanimous all-Bay Conference Van Sistine, and the battery of Leuman and Pichler.
Still, there’s plenty of optimism for the future after spending a portion of the season grooming Leuman’s successor, freshman Amber Van Duyse, and watching the maturation of Timm, the team’s second-leading hitter who batted cleanup Thursday despite being only a freshman.
After the game, the Phantoms shed plenty of tears about the ride being over but there was also a shared satisfaction among their seniors after taking a team that finished fourth in the Bay Conference to a level it’s never been before.
“It was amazing,” said Leuman, fighting tears. “Especially to get down here senior year and be the first West De Pere team to do that is really special. I wish I could come back next year.”