Oshkosh West pulls away from pesky Fond du Lac to win sectional semifinal softball game
OSHKOSH – It just felt like whenever the Oshkosh West softball team needed a big hit, somebody found a way to get one. Lacey Cruz broke a 3-3 tie with a clutch two-run single in the fifth and Brianna Davis drove in a pair of insurance runs with a two-out single in the sixth as the Wildcats fended off a pesky Fond du Lac squad, 7-3, in a WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal on Tuesday afternoon.
West, the fourth seed in the sectional can earn a trip to the WIAA State Tournament on Thursday when it faces second-seeded Slinger at Watertown at 5 p.m. Slinger knocked off Beaver Dam, 6-1, on Tuesday.
West, which last made it to state in 2013, earned the trip to the sectional final by knocking off a Fond du Lac team that beat the Wildcats late in the season and reached Tuesday’s game by surprising top-ranked Oshkosh North last week.
But the Cardinals couldn’t keep the magical run going. Fond du Lac scored first in the game and tied the game at 3 in the top of the fifth but was unable to keep West off the scoreboard in the late innings. “They got timely hits and they outhit us there at the end,” Fond du Lac coach Adam Rushing said. “We battled back and forth. It was a great game and fortunate for them they got the hits when they needed them.”
With the score tied at 3, Leah Engstrom and Alyssa Brewer led off the bottom of the fifth for West with singles and then were advanced to second and third on Davis’ sacrifice bunt. Cruz then followed with a clean single to plate both the runners and put the Wildcats ahead to stay. West then all but sealed the win in the next inning when Davis – who finished 2-for-3 and also drove in two runs with a single in the third inning – drove in two more runs to push the Wildcats’ cushion to four. The single came after Fond du Lac intentionally walked Brewer to load the bases, which gave the freshman added motivation to come through.
West’s Annika Johnson, who hadn’t pitched since early May because of an injury, then retired Fond du Lac in order in the seventh to end the game, striking out two of the three batters she faced.
Cruz was the winning pitcher for the Wildcats, striking out eight in six innings of work.She surrendered just six hits in the game and kept Fond du Lac from putting together any big innings. Cruz retired Fond du Lac in order in the top of the first, but gave up a lead-off double to Kali Smit in the second inning. Lexi Nett followed with a sacrifice bunt but an errant throw from Cruz allowed Smit to score from second with the game’s first run.
An RBI-single from Brianna Geis in the bottom of the second tied the game, but Fond du Lac moved back ahead in the third when Kali Smit – who was 3-for-3 in the game drilled a clutch two-out single to score Jacy Klaske.
Davis’ two-run single in the fourth gave West its first lead of the game, but Fond du Lac came back in the top of the fifth when Abby Freismuth scored on the back end of a double steal with two outs.
Kali Smit was the only player with multiple hits for Fond du Lac, but will be one of a large group of players returning next year for the Cardinals, who were making their first sectional tournament appearance since 1996.
Fond du Lac had only four seniors on its roster this year and the late-season experience the group picked up should be a benefit in the future.
“I think the couple of wins we had at the end against really good teams is going to give our sophomores and juniors the confidence they need,” Rushing said. “The experience and exposure against three very good teams, I think that will be big for them because I’m not sure we expected to be here.”
Fond du Lac 011 010 0 – 3 6 1
Oshkosh West 012 022 – 7 8 1
WP: Lacey Cruz (6 IP, 8 Ks). LP: Abby Freismuth (6 IP, 1 K).
Leading hitter: FDL – Kali Smit 3×3, 2B, RBI.