Editor’s note: A deeper look into the WIAA Division 4 state championship, plus a collage of images will be published in the Wednesday, July 7 edition of the Monroe Times.
GREEN BAY – It was a great run, and the Juda-Albany Panthers are bringing home some softball hardware. The Panthers lost to Mishicot 6-3 in the WIAA Division 4 state championship game at UW-Green Bay June 29.
“We played a very good game,” Juda-Albany head coach Bill Davis said. “They played hard, they gave me tons of effort, and unfortunately we just ended up on the short side of it. But what a run – what a finish to the season. I’m very proud of silver.”
Boasting zero seniors, Juda-Albany made it’s run to the title game on the backs of underclassmen, including a freshman pitcher.
Briggs tried to brush away the jitters all day long. After needing to adjust to a wet ball in a drizzle in the semifinal win over Blair-Taylor hours earlier, Briggs returned to the diamond with the weather warm and muggy.
“It was a little nerve-wracking. It didn’t even hit me that we were at state until after the first game,” Briggs said. “I just had to keep my calm and let myself work.”
She finished the championship allowing 10 hits and two walks, with five runs earned. She struck out just one Mishicot batter.
“She’s doing a great job, but our pitching will get better,” Bill Davis said of Briggs in years to come.
She wasn’t the only young player on the field for Juda-Albany. Her battery mate, Myah Johnson is also a freshman, as is third baseman Alana Durtschi. Sophomore starters include Ciarrah Davis (LF) and Gracie Freitag (1B) with Jackie Nusbaum swinging a bat off the bench. Junior starters include Brianna Dahl (SS), Anna Skoumal (CF), Libby Jordan (RF), Emileigh Dallman (2B), and designated player Katie Nusbaum.
“It was awesome. The nerves were a little jittery at first, but it was still great. I hope we can get here next year,” Freitag said of the experience of playing in the state tournament.
Skoumal, the club’s leadoff hitter, walked to open the game and later scored on a 2-out RBI single by Durtschi. Johnson then doubled moments later, putting the Panthers ahead 2-0.
In the bottom of the first, Mishicot put two runners on base, but leadoff hitter Abby Garceau was thrown out trying to swipe third. The Indians did tie it at 2-2 in the bottom of the second and made it 3-2 in the third inning on a sacrifice fly by Katelyn Callahan, scoring Garceau.
The Panthers scored an equalizer in the next frame, as Freitag singled in Johnson, who had walked and advanced to second on a sac bunt moments earlier.
“I think my first at bat I was just really nervous. By my second at bat I was more into my swing and I was ready to hit the ball,” Freitag said.
The score stayed the same until the bottom of the sixth. With storm clouds looming in the distance, Cora Stodola tripled to deep right field to lead off the inning, and scored moments later on a groundout to second. After Cora Nelson walked, Ally McArdle smacked a double to right center, scoring another run. Garceau, the next batter, doubled on a bloop into shallow left near the foul line, bringing home the game’s final run. The next batter hit the ball in almost the same spot, but Ciarrah Davis was able to track it down – and then made a heads up play by doubling off Garceau at second to end the inning.
“I knew that if another came like that, I was going to get it. Then it came right away, and I was like, ‘perfect’,” she said.
Trailing by 3 in the last inning, Ciarrah had one final opportunity to step to the plate
“I was just taking deep breaths – one breath at a time. I was just thinking, ‘I have to get this down’,” she said. “(The championship) was crazy. All the new experiences, the all-turf field under your feet, the crowd was just so loud – it was an amazing feeling.”
The teams and fans rushed off the field after receiving their trophies, with a strong line of storms barreling in into town. The Panthers would then get an entire bus trip to collect their thoughts and emotions after playing in the two biggest games of their career in the same day. Then, the offseason begins.
“We can’t underestimate ourselves. I don’t think anyone really expected to be here. We all talked about it – we never expected to get this far, but now that we are here, we can get so much farther next year and later,” Freitag said.
“It will be really nice to have everyone back next year – and hopefully we can come back to state,” Briggs said.
The Six Rivers East boasts just five teams, but four of the five are stout competitors. Pecatonica surprised teams this spring, led by talented sophomore pitcher Chloe Schraepfer, and stayed in conference title contention into the final week of the regular season. Argyle’s Grace Ganshert, a junior, was the returning player of the year in the conference, and the Orioles tied Barneveld for the league title, ahead of Juda-Albany, which finished third. Barneveld also made a deep run in the postseason, getting knocked out in the sectional final June 23.
“You finish third place in conference and you put a run together like that for the playoffs and finish second in the playoffs – that’s pretty amazing to me,” Bill Davis said. “It just shows how good our conference is, and thanks to them – the competition makes you better. We’re looking forward to the conference next year and the challenges ahead of us.