Blast by Kocken wins it for West De Pere
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – West De Pere softball player Leah Kocken had her moment to shine when it counted most.
And she didn’t disappoint.
Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning May 20 against Bay Port, Kocken’s walk-off, three-run blast to center field with one out carried the Phantoms to a 5-4 nonconference victory at West De Pere High School.
With a steady breeze blowing out to center, Kocken said she was expecting a changeup from Bay Port pitcher Malayna Clauss but got a fastball down the middle of the plate instead.
“I’ve hit seven home runs this year but none like that,” Kocken said. “It was a 3-2 count, and (the ball) was right in my lane, and I hacked at it.”
The sophomore also started on the mound for the Phantoms and went four innings.
Kocken gave up a pair of long home runs to Bay Port’s Kerena Wood.
“It was different getting used to and hitting my spots with Bay Port being a good-hitting team,” Kocken said. “A win like this gives us lots of energy for our upcoming games.”
Wood’s career night – she also had two stolen bases and was intentionally walked twice – was almost good enough to give the Pirates the win, but West De Pere put the pressure on in the seventh.
Pinch-hitter Molly Piepkorn led off with a single and was sacrificed to second on a Rebekah Buboltz bunt.
Nevaeh Wagendorf then singled to set the stage for Kocken.
“This is a win the girls worked for,” said first-year West De Pere head coach Jennifer Timm. “We hadn’t reached our potential the last few games, but this is what West De Pere softball is about.”
Timm said she thinks Kocken could be a Division I college talent.
“She’s an all-around athlete,” Timm said. “Even though she’s a sophomore, we look to her as one of the leaders on the team. She can play anywhere on the field.”
A key point in the game came during the fourth inning.
After Wood blasted her second homer of the game – this one off the scoreboard in center – the Pirates led 2-0.
A single by Maggie Luedke and a double by Callie Dickie put runners on second and third with nobody out.
The next Bay Port batter, Emma Krueger, then hit a hot shot to Buboltz at third.
Buboltz looked pinch-runner Gabby Nelson back to the base before firing a missile to first to get Krueger.
Nelson then broke toward home but was tagged out by West De Pere catcher Morgan Hansel on a perfect throw from first baseman Karleigh Linssen to complete the double play.
Kocken then got the next batter to ground out to end the inning.
“That inning wasn’t looking good but then we got a nice double play to get out of it,” Timm said. “That was a momentum changer.”
In the bottom half of the inning, the Phantoms tied the game 2-2.
Hansel led off with a double and advanced to third on a Josie Fredrickson single.
After Fredrickson stole second, Timm called for a suicide squeeze with Morgan DeGroot at the plate.
DeGroot got the bunt down with a charging Krueger fielding the ball at third coming toward the plate.
Krueger then flipped the ball to catcher Brynn Dahlke, but the tag was late, making it 2-1.
Linssen then tied the game with an RBI groundout.
The Pirates appeared poised to go home with a win after they took a 4-2 lead in the top of the seventh.
Slap hitter Vanessa Bushmaker dropped one down the third-base line with one out before Mady Wolfgram also singled.
Brooklyn Rau then hit a dart to right field that went off the glove of Kaylee Rukamp to score two runs.
“With my background, I like to bring a faster pace to the game,” Timm said, who is a 2015 West De Pere graduate and played Division I softball in New York. “Bay Port is the team who we are, so getting a victory over them gives us confidence.”