The empire falls, GT softball team beats Point, 3-2, at state

June 14, 2012

The earth shook, the ground rumbled and almost split asunder, as the Germantown girls softball team did not flinch against defending state champion Stevens Point, 3-2, in a WIAA state quarterfinal thriller at Goodman Diamond in Madison Thursday afternoon.

Okay, in the heartstopping seventh inning, when the 22-6 Panthers put runners on second and third with none out and the Warhawks nursing a 3-2 lead, maybe you did see a little twitch coming from senior pitcher Lauren Renard.

"The first girl gets on, no outs," she said. "Then the second girl gets on,  no outs, then there's a passed ball. I just had to remember to take deep breaths."

And she did, all the while making clutch pitches. She got outfielder Carly Lass to fly out to shallow left and then she got a clutch full-count strikeout of Leah Soik for the second out.

But before anyone could get too happy, there was the little matter of taking care of Panthers' hyper-deadly first baseman Taylor Smola. The single season Point record-holder for RBIs (45), Smola had keyed a two-run game-tieing rally in the sixth with a ground-rule double.

Co-coach Amy Barbiaux and Renard agreed that the plan was going to be an unintentional, intentional walk to the .386-hitting Smola, as they were going to pitch her away.

"All outside, outside, outside," said Renard. "If she goes for it, she goes for it. If not, we walk her."

But deep into the count, Smola did go for it and chopped a hard grounder to shortstop Addy Green who winged it over to first baseman Erika Swoboda for the final out.

Which resulted in an onfield celebration for Germantown (24-4) that wouldn't have been more intense had the Warhawks just won the state title.

And in a way they had, as the Warhawks advanced to a WIAA state semifinal back at Goodman on Friday at 8 p.m. against Sun Prairie (23-3) which was a 10-0 winner over Franklin earlier in the day.

Germantown had lost 13-1 to Point, which has won seven state championships since 2000, in a tournament at Ashwaubenon earlier this season, but as Renard said, "That was an entirely different (Germantown) team."

Barbiaux and the rest of southeastern Wisconsin coaches know how difficult it's been for division I teams to get any traction at state. South Milwaukee in 1998 was the last Milwaukee-area team to win a division I state title (Germantown had won its crown in 1996), with northern tier teams like Point dominating the spectrum ever since.

"We knew that we were the underdogs," said Barbiaux, "but I think that first game with them helped us. It gave us more fight. They are a great team. They've been here (to state) so many times. A very formidable program."

"But the fight was in our kids today."

Yes, it was. Germantown started pinging Point pitcher Angela Lange early on ("It was good to know we were going up to the plate and battling," said Barbiaux) and finally broke through in the third when leftfielder Amanda Witzlib ripped a double down the third-base line to score both Felicia Kons and Erika Berry for a 2-0 lead.

"That really built our confidence," said Barbiaux.

The Warhawks maintained that lead as Renard (five strikeouts and no walks) limited the Panthers, who came into the game with a .383 team batting average, to just two hits through five innings.

But in the sixth, a two-run double by the Panthers' Melanie Leopold tied the game.

However, as noted, the Warhawks did not flinch. Green began the Germantown half of the sixth with a single, and after a pop-out to first was bunted over to second by Jessica Cemke.

That set the stage for desiginated player Alexa Bechler, who came up huge by ripping a double down the first base line to score Green with the go-ahead run.

"It was an intense moment," said Bechler. "I had two strikes on me, so it was good to get a high ball I could hit hard and get a run in."

That set the stage for the seventh inning dramatics.

"We knew we had to try and have fun," said Renard. "You just had to remind yourself that it was just another game and make sure you didn't look at all the eyes (in the stands)."

"We just felt we had improved so much since that first game (with Point)," said Bechler. "We figured if we played well, we could beat them."

Shaking the earth a little in the process.

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