By Murray Gleffe
PULASKI-The Ashwaubenon Jaguars and Pulaski Red Raiders squared off in a doubleheader to decide the 2018 conference softball championship (May 17).
Both games proved their merit.
In game one, the Jaguars captured by a final of 3-2.
Needing to win the second game as well to force a three-way tie for the title, the Jaguars came up just short.
The Pulaski Red Raiders broke a 3-3 deadlock, en route to a 4-3 victory to capture the FRCC championship outright.
(Game 1)-The Jaguars got on the board in the top of the first.
Zion Estano got on first base after she touched the bag just ahead of the throw. Seconds later, she got a stolen base.
Two outs later, Katelynn Cleveland stepped into the batter’s box and generated a hit to score Estano and give the visitors a one run advantage.
The Red Raiders found it difficult to get any type of rhythm going against Cleveland in the first few innings.
She was in complete command of the mound with four strike outs early on.
After the initial wave of good fortune, the Jaguars had trouble of their own getting hits on Sophomore pitcher Lauren Dixon.
With the Jaguars still leading 1-0 in the top of the fourth, Cleveland hit a shot up the first base line of the field.
The Red Raiders defense made an error and Cleveland advanced to second.
Kally VanLaanen hit a sacrifice bunt to advance Cleveland to third, and then the play of the game occurred next!
Freshman Anna Wendorf stepped up to bat, and after three attempts laid down a perfect suicide squeeze.
Cleveland came dashing home and beat the tag at home plate giving the Jaguars a 2-0 margin through three and one-half innings.
“I’m not normally a bunter, “ said Wendorf. “So, when coach gave me the signal, I knew I had to execute for the team. It came off the bat perfect and we scored a key run that ultimately held up in the game.”
In the bottom of the fourth, the Red Raiders finally got on the board.
Taylor Williquette came in to pinch run for Dixon who had a lead-off single.
Kristin Burdeau then gave herself an RBI when she found the gap near second base sending Williquette home to cut the Jaguars margin to 2-1.
In the bottom of the fifth, Jaguars second basemen Peyton Wright made a leaping catch and then subsequent throw to first to complete the 4-3 double play.
The Jaguars then struck one last time in the top of the sixth.
Alexa Blasczyk got on base after a ‘bizarre sequence’ occurred at the plate.
The ball appeared to hit the plate and then the player, but the umpires ruled Blasczyk safe at first.
After Cleveland got her third hit of the evening, sending Blasczyk to third, Van Laanen hit a hard shot to second that was temporarily misplayed. The momentarily lapse scored Blasczyk and it put the Jaguars up 3-1 through six innings.
The bottom of the seventh provided theatrical drama for the players, coaches, and fans alike.
It started off relatively unassuming with two Red Raiders’ players hitting to second base and VanLaanen making difficult throws to produce the first two outs.
The Red Raiders would not go down without a fight.
Josephine Wesolowski then stepped up and laced a blast to the right field fence.
She galloped into second untouched.
Camdyn King then followed with a single down the third base line that made it to the outfield.
Wesolowski scored to make it 3-2 Jaguars, and suddenly what looked like a for sure victory for the Jaguars just a short time ago got even tighter.
Mackenzie Niespodzany ripped a single and out of the blue the Red Raiders had the go ahead run on first.
Fortunately for the Jaguars, Cleveland got ahead of the count with Dixon and threw a slider in there for good measure to end the game (strike-out) and the Red Raiders hopes in the opener.
“I was so proud of the effort that we showed,” said Jaguars softball coach Shannon VanLaanen.”We came out ready to play and got out to that early lead which always helps against a very good team. Kate came through on the mound but also with her bat.”
(Game 2)-The Jaguars came through when it mattered most in the matinee tilt.
It set up the pivotal ‘all important’ last game in which the Jaguars had to win to grab a piece of the hardware.
The Jaguars took an early 3-0 lead through three innings.
The Red Raiders battled back and put up three in the middle part of the game.
After trading blow for blow, the Jaguars and Red Raiders found themselves deadlocked at three apiece through six innings.
The Red Raiders forged ahead with the winning run in the top of the seventh to capture the contest 4-3.
The Jaguars finish with a 14-4 mark in the FRCC and a third-place finish and will be back in action when they host their own invitational on Saturday.
“We knew the second game would be a battle,” added VanLaanen. “We again jumped out early, and they just made a few more plays than we did. They delivered in the seventh when it mattered.”
Note: The Ashwaubenon Jaguars were awarded a three seed by the WIAA and will host fourteen seeded Green Bay Southwest May 23 at Pioneer Park. Pulaski is the top seed in Sectional number two.