Megan Kleist was completely spent.
The Kimberly junior had to catch her breath several times as she interviewed with state media just minutes after throwing 225 pitches in the Papermakers’ 6-5, 15-inning victory over defending state champion Westosha Central in Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 state softball championship game.
The game last 3 hours and 45 minutes and was the longest game in state tournament history.
“It feels great,” Kleist said. “We came (in to the state tournament) expecting just to go game-by-game and we got to the last game and there was nothing we were going to leave on the field. We were going to leave it all out there and that’s what we did tonight.”
Kleist, a junior, was in a battle with Westosha Central freshman hurler Alyssa Hrncar and the two pitchers combined for 453 pitches while also getting themselves out of tough jams seemingly every inning.
The two teams combined to leave 38 runners on base, with Westosha Central leaving 25, including situations in the fourth, fifth and 15th innings where the Falcons had the bases loaded, only to come away with no runs.
Kimberly’s Carleigh Johnson broke the 5-5 deadlock in the top of the 15th with a towering shot to left center on the second pitch from Hrncar that cleared the fence and put the Papermakers in command.
“I knew I needed to get a solid hit and I was looking for that one pitch down the middle,” Johnson said. “That’s what I got and that’s what I hit.”
From there it was up to Kleist and the Papermakers defense, which committed four errors, but was air-tight in the bottom of the 15th.
With one out, Westosha Central (27-4) loaded the bases with two outs, but Kleist had to face the Falcons’ power hitter Kayla Konwent, who was 5-for-5 entering the at bat and had also been intentionally walked three times previous.
Kleist got Konwent to pop up to reserve infielder Claudia Randerson at short to cap the game and send the Papermakers (27-3) into a wild celebration.
“We never, ever gave up,” Kimberly coach Bill Weyers said. “We just kept battling and just kept on and kept on. Being down, we’d get a run and then we kept on battling. That was just like the beginning of our run here. The regional final against Neenah, we’re down by one going in to the last inning. Neenah probably thinks we shouldn’t be here after that. But we just kept battling and battling.”
It was Kimberly’s seventh state title and first since 2007. The Papermakers are 7-0 all-time in championship games.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game and everything but I definitely did not expect how many innings we played and I’m so glad we pulled it out,” Kleist said. “And we came out with the win today. I’m just so happy for everyone.”
WP: Megan Kleist. LP: Alyssa Hrncar. Leading hitters: Abby Menting K 4×6, Megan Kleist K 3×7, Jenna Smarzinski K 2×8, Sara Rosenow K 2×5, Carleigh Johnson K 2×6, HR, 2B, 2 RBI; Summer Zachow K 2×6; Kayla Konwent WC 5×6, 3B; Haley Spoerl WC 3×8, Kira Mickelson WC 3×8, Taylor Bergles WC 2×7; Alyssa Hrncar WC 2×8, 2B.