MADISON — Kate Fjelstad and John Rufollo had the same feeling.
With plenty of offensive firepower to go around between the Chi-Hi and Kenosha Bradford/Reuther softball teams, both coaches felt hits and balls in play would be abundant during their Division 1 state quarterfinal matchup on Thursday morning and they were correct.
The two teams combined for 15 hits and more impressively combined for just five strikeouts in Bradford/Reuther’s 5-3 victory over Chi-Hi in the opening game of this year’s state tournament at Goodman Diamond.
“I knew our defense was going to have to be tight,” Chi-Hi coach Kate Fjelstad said.
The Cardinals had at least one batter reach in six of seven innings while the Red Devils reached base in five of their seven frames. The two teams also went more than four innings between the first and second strikeout of the game. Mallory Sterling struck out Bradford/Reuther leadoff hitter Gianna Hoppenjan to open the game with that being the only punchout until Sterling got cleanup hitter Jadynn Powell looking for the second out of the fifth inning. Chi-Hi’s first strikeout came to start the bottom of the fifth when Kenosha Bradford/Reuther hurler Livie Lehmann sat down her counterpart Sterling swinging.
“I thought it was going to be a game where good hitters were going to barrel some balls up and the defense was going to have to make plays,” Kenosha Bradford/Reuther coach Rufollo said.
The two teams entered the state tournament with a combined 39 home runs with Bradford/Reuther adding two more to that tally when Sydney Strelow and Alyssa McClelland socked back-to-back solo shots in the top of the seventh.
Timely hitting and a pair of errors helped the Cardinals bring the go-ahead run to the plate in the seventh inning.
The seventh-seeded Cardinals were the lowest seed to advance to the state tournament. Chi-Hi earned a No. 5 seed in the Division 1 field when the state pairings were reseeded last weekend.
“This season seven has kind of been our lucky number,” Chi-Hi senior Abby Staves said. “Being the seven seed and coming back all the way to the top and we always fight the hardest in the seventh inning knowing that’s what we’ve got to do.”
A different vibe
The Cardinals were making their second consecutive trip to the state tournament after falling to Burlington 8-1 in the quarterfinals last season.
Chi-Hi allowed five runs and committed two errors in the first inning of that defeat, but were a much more composed team in Thursday’s quarterfinal. Chi-Hi had just one error for the game and grabbed an early 2-1 lead on run-scoring hits from Nicole Crumbaker and Staves in the bottom of the first.
“We definitely felt a lot better,” Staves said of the comparison between the two games. “It wasn’t a complete blowout like last season. We started off strong. We got ahead of them. We just had a couple hits they took advantage and not much we can about it.
“It was definitely a lot better this year.”
Three of the team’s seniors — Sterling, Staves and Maddie Adrian — saw action in last year’s state appearance.
“Last year we weren’t ready. We didn’t know how to rebound and come back,” Fjelstad said of this year compared to last. “This year they had that experience and they were able to do that and I know from being in the dugout, the senior leadership is just huge on this team.”
Frenette on the call
One member of the 2018 state team was on the WOGO radio call as Kaylee Frenette provided color commentary for the early-morning contest.
Frenette was a four-year starter and all-state player for Chi-Hi before graduating last spring. She recently wrapped up a strong freshman season of college softball at Upper Iowa University.
Frenette started all 47 games in the infield as a freshman for the Peacocks, hitting .329 while taking second on the team with 54 hits including five doubles and a triple. Frenette scored 35 runs and drove in 17.
Two prominent members of Chi-Hi’s 2012 Division 1 state championship team have put together successful seasons as assistant coaches for state-bound teams.
Evie Schaller is a part of the Cardinal staff this season while Liz Jarosz is in her first season as an assistant for East Ridge High School in Woodbury, Minnesota.
Schaller was the Wisconsin Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association Division 1 Player of the Year in 2012 and both she and Jarosz were all-state selections during their time as Cardinals. Schaller went on to play collegiately at Winona State and UW-Eau Claire while Jarosz played at Concordia-St. Paul.
The Chi-Hi softball team wore green ribbons in their hair during Thursday’s game in honor of Girl Scout Troop 3055. Earlier this season, the Cardinals wore special green jerseys honoring the troop at its home softball invitational.