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Cheese in a familiar place, 6-0
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PRAIRIE DU CHIEN - Senior leadership usually grows the deeper into the season a team goes. What better time than Thursday for the Cheesemakers to have its captains all playing at the top of their games?

Emily Rufenacht had three hits, Maggie Schuttler hit the decisive two-run home run, and Meghan Roberts threw a three-hit shutout as Monroe (17-9) won its third straight regional title with a 6-0 win over Prairie du Chien (16-8).

"In big games you look for your senior leaders to make plays, and they did," Monroe head coach Dale Buvid said.

Prairie du Chien, ranked No. 1 in the regional, lost to a senior-stacked Monroe team a year ago in sectionals.

"The reason we were the third seed was because the Southwest Conference thought we didn't have the pitching to compete with them. But look at it now," Buvid said.

Neither team put much pressure on the other until the third inning, when the Cheesemakers got a double to right center by Coree Lee. Pinch runner Jessica Beckman reached third on a single by catcher Paisley Bennett, but Monroe could not plate the run.

Roberts threw a seven-pitch walk in the home half of the third, but after a fielder's choice and a strikeout, Bennett threw out the runner on a steal attempt.

In the bottom of the fourth, Roberts allowed a single, but an error on a pickoff attempt by Bennett allowed the runner at first to reach second. Buvid called for a meeting at the mound with his infield to calm the waters. Roberts got out of the inning unscathed, and waited for her offense to get her some run support.

Enter the bats. Beckman stayed in the game and reached first on a one-out error when the shortstop dropped a weak infield pop-up. Bennett's bunt attempt popped into the air and was caught, and Schuttler stepped to the plate with two outs.

"I could feel it right off the bat - she put it waist high," Schuttler said. After a 1-1 count, Schuttler unloaded on a pitch over the heart of the plate, sending the ball over the left center fence.

From there, Roberts knew the game was over.

"I didn't want this to be the last game I'd ever play. After Maggie's home run, I said 'We've got this,'" Roberts said.

"Meghan doesn't overpower you, but she's a very good pitcher and hit a lot of pitchers' pitches. She was very impressive tonight and I'm so proud of her," Buvid said.

Roberts worked through the home half with no trouble, and in the sixth, Monroe tacked on a few more.

After a leadoff single by Kelsey Erickson, Kendra Clark then singled to center, and Erickson reached third. Kristin McArdle then hit an RBI fielder's choice to first, as Erickson beat the throw home to make the score 3-0. Pinch hitter Bethany Meier singled in a run, but McArdle was thrown out at third. Monroe then scored a fifth run on a double steal at first and third. Monroe added one more insurance run in the top of the seventh.

Roberts went 1-2-3 in home half of the sixth and the seventh innings, with Rufenacht making the final two put outs.

"I knew I didn't want to overthrow to first. I had picked up both of the grounders backhanded, but I knew I had to finish the play," Rufenacht said.

Three weeks ago, few thought the Cheesemakers would make it this far. Buvid's squad was in the midst of a three-game losing streak, and fell to 10-9 on the regular season - a far cry from its second-place finish at state in 2008.

However, the Cheese righted the ship, and now has won seven straight and earned the right to play Adams-Friendship (9-10) at 1 p.m. in a sectional semifinal on Thursday, June 4, at the same ballpark in Prairie du Chien. Adams-Friendship struggled throughout the season, but earned a forfeit win against swine-flu plagued Lodi in the first round, but defeated Wisconsin Dells and Portage to finish out the miracle regional.

If Monroe wins the semfiinal, it will play in the 3:30 p.m. title game June 4 against the winner of the Edgerton-Lakeside Lutheran semifinal.

"It's awesome to be back again. This is my third year in sectionals and we hope to make it even further again," Schuttler said.

Buvid will have his team work on the basics and keep eyes focused on the task at hand - another trip to state.

"Softball is a game of momentum. Once you get that first big hit, the game kind of just goes with it," he said. "Winning breeds winning. We've been winning for a while now, and it is just expected. But it's certainly not going to be easy."

Notes: In Bennett's sixth-inning at-bat, a strike was called before the pitcher toed the rubber to face Bennett. Buvid had called for a pinch runner to replace Meier at second, and the umpire told Bennett to step in the box to stop the delay in the game - which ended in only an hour and 30 minutes. The umpire warned several Monroe batters, and even Buvid to not call time or give signs between pitches because he felt the game already was getting delayed with the numerous legal substitutions. ... Schuttler's home run was the third of her career, and the first that cleared a fence.