Softball: Ellsworth clinches playoff opener
HAGER CITY – Ellsworth knew it had the capacity to beat Osceola in the opening round of the WIAA playoffs. Just a week before, the Panthers swept the Chieftains 19-2 and 10-5 in the regular season.
But with the season on the line and a trip to top-ranked Baldwin-Woodville looming, fourth-seeded Ellsworth wasn’t going to get ahead of itself.
“If we had the confidence and played like we could, I knew we could beat them,” said Panthers’ shortstop Abby Giese, “but we can’t go in thinking we can beat them.”
Luckily, the Panthers’ bats provided everything the team needed to advance in the Division 2 regional tournament with an 11-4 victory over fifth-seeded Osceola at the Brown Sports Complex.
“The girls have come so far since the beginning of the season,” said Ellsworth head coach Hailey Breister. “We’re really firing on all cylinders.”
Even after the Chieftains scored in the top of the first on an RBI single from McKenzie Burke, the Panthers responded with a four-run second inning. But it wasn’t the bats – save for an RBI single by Kendra Lansing – that did the damage. Instead, Ellsworth drew two bases-loaded walks and had a sacrifice fly by Giese.
“We want our girls to hit because we’re an excellent hitting team, but it also has to be selective,” Breister said. “It has to be pitches you can drive and if they’re working the pitcher and getting on, we’ll get ‘em in somehow.”
In the second, third, fourth and fifth innings, Osceola only got one hit, a single by Burke that turned into another Chieftains run. In that span, Panthers pitcher Serena Hoisington notched six of her 10 strikeouts.
“They struggled with inside stuff, so that was my game plan,” said Hoisington, who allowed just five hits and three walks in a complete-game victory. “Go with the inside, I have a screwball that most days, it works pretty good, so that was kind of my go-to. Some of them turned on it, so I had to throw in the rise ball every once and a while to keep them off-balance.”
Ellsworth increased its lead to 8-2 in the bottom of the fourth, thanks to RBI singles by Jenna George, Ashly Matzek and Hoisington. Kendra Lansing also reached home on a balk.
“We had our bats come around for us today and that really helps,” Hoisington said. “That gives me the confidence as a pitcher to know that, OK, I can give them one here or there and they’re still going to be there to back me up.”
Then in the fifth, the Panthers flexed their muscles as Giese and Matzek each hit solo home runs to make it 10-2. Giese went 3-for-4 with the home run, a double, two RBI and two runs scored to lead Ellsworth on offense.
“That was Abby’s seventh home run this season, so she’s had an excellent season,” Breister said. “When girls see a lefty, they think, ‘Oh, slap.’ Abby’s got so much power, it’s just awesome.”
Casey Swanson had an RBI double in the sixth for Osceola before reaching home herself on a wild pitch, but Ellsworth tacked on one final run in the bottom half after pinch runner Katie Trunkel scored on a double steal.
Matzek went 2-for-2 with two RBI and a pair of runs for Ellsworth (11-5). Along with Matzek and Giese, Ashlee Newhart, Kendra Lansing and Hoisington each scored two runs in the Panthers’ victory.
Osceola, whose season ends at 7-9 overall, had a 2-for-3 game from Swanson, while Camie Thorsland had a double.
With the Chieftains out of the way, Ellsworth’s focus shifts to Baldwin-Woodville, and its Division I pitcher Abby Klopp. The top-ranked Blackhawks have a pair of wins over the Panthers, 11-1 and 10-0.
If Ellsworth hopes to stand up to Baldwin-Woodville, the first step is to not be intimidated by the Indiana State commit Klopp.
“We have the capabilities of hitting her. We had a freshman get a hit off her the last time we faced them and broke her no-hitter streak,” Hoisington said. “We have the capability to do it, it’s just getting mentally prepared to do it.”
Breister added, “The important part is to work beyond that aura. Abby’s been pitching there for four years non-stop and she’s unstoppable, so if we have that in our head, she’s going to stop us. We have to be confident and do the little things. If we’re confident, we’ll do all right.”