Defense carries De Pere to win
By Greg Bates
DE PERE – With the Bay Port softball team giving De Pere all it could handle, a couple of key defensive plays late in the game made all the difference.
Defense was the key as De Pere held on for a 5-3 victory in Fox River Classic Conference action on May 7.
As the Redbirds were clinging to a two-run lead in the sixth inning, Bay Port had runners on first and second with one out.
Nicole Vandervest hit a ball that De Pere third baseman Alexandra Westphal made a nice stop on and threw to first for the out.
Pirates’ base runner Jourdan Lee wheeled around third and attempted to score from second.
First baseman Brianna Patz threw a strike to catcher Makayla Alexander, who applied the tag for an inning-ending double play.
“In previous games, I’m not so sure we make that play, but we’ve been practicing the play is never over,” said De Pere head coach Matt Eakin. “Those are the things that you need to do to win ballgames.”
De Pere threw out Bay Port runners at the plate to end back-to-back innings.
The win finishes off a season sweep for De Pere over Bay Port.
“I told them they played a really strong game, but so did Bay Port,” Eakin said. “We just played a little stronger game and that’s what helped us win.”
Said Bay Port head coach Amber Francour: “We knew last time we were right there neck and neck with them, and we wanted to come back strong. I definitely thought it was a team we would be even with and wanted to beat.”
In the top of the fifth inning, Bay Port had also mounted a threat.
With runners on first and second and two out, No. 3 hitter Maddy Ehlke hit a single to right field.
Bay Port’s Callie Dickie, who started off the inning with an infield single, raced to the plate.
Right fielder Emily Blomquist fired a rocket to Alexander, who got down the tag for the out.
“She’s got the strongest arm on the team, and they ran on her,” Eakin said. “Makayla did a good job of snagging the ball and blocking the plate. Emily had a good day in right field.”
Getting the inning-ending outs at home plate was big for De Pere pitcher McKayleigh Piper.
“It’s very important, especially for team morale,” Piper said. “It’s like a win right at the end of the inning, and you really just like to rebound and use that on offense.”
Francour didn’t second-guess giving her players the green light to try and score late in the game.
“I like to see them be aggressive when it’s appropriate, and I thought that tonight they did a good job,” she said. “Hats off to De Pere – they made good throws from the outfield to throw them out. They made the plays, we didn’t and that was the difference.”
Piper picked up the win in the circle for De Pere, allowing just six hits while going the distance.
She didn’t have any strikeouts but let her defense do its thing behind her.
“They always work really hard, and I’m really dependent on them,” Piper said. “At times in the game when I started missing my spot, it’s just really important they were there for me.”
Piper got plenty of run support early in the game from her teammates.
De Pere tallied a four-run second inning with Rachel Kerkhoff stroking a two-RBI single as the Redbirds went up 4-0.
Bay Port (8-10, 8-7 FRCC) cut its deficit in half the next inning, as Kyleigh Schuette got an RBI on a suicide squeeze that she legged out for a single.
Olivia Smith added a run-scoring single.
De Pere (11-6, 8-5 FRCC) added an insurance run in the fourth, as two Bay Port errors were costly.
Emma Krueger pitched the first five innings for the Pirates and took the loss.
Vandervest threw the final two frames.
With the regular season winding down, Eakin feels like his girls are playing well down the stretch.
“As long as we’re playing our best ball at the end of the season going into tournament time, that’s what we can hope for,” Eakin said. “I think today was that defining moment of our season where we are playing some really strong softball.”