FC softball hopes to make its state breakthrough

FALL CREEK - Ready for a breakthrough?

This is the fourth straight season in a row the Fall Creek High School Softball has made it to the WIAA Division 4 sectional tournament championship.

For three straight seasons its been heartbreak. Can this year be different?

It would be ironic if not appropriate that the breakthrough to state for the Crickets, who've never been there, would come against Grantsburg, who has been there 10 times (first coming in 2004) with three state titles (latest in 2022). The Pirates have two straight sectional finals wins over FC, including last year's triumph in Fall Creek (FC made it to the sectional finals in 2021 against Phillips only to lose in Grantsburg!).

So can the breakthrough be made when the No. 2 ranked Crickets (25-2) challenge the No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Pirates (23-0) in the finals of the WIAA Division 4 Chippewa Falls McDonell Sectional Tournament Thursday, May 30 at Casper Park in Chippewa Falls beginning at 5 p.m.?

One good sign for the Crickets was their ability to beat their nemesis this school year McDonell - winners over them in sectional tournaments in volleyball and basketball - in the semifinals of the McDonell Sectional held on Tuesday, May 28 in Fall Creek. Winning a state title in American Legion softball over the summer with many of the same players hasn't hurt either.

Four runs in the third inning, including a two-run homer by FC senior shortstop Sophie Johnson, and two more in the fourth propelled the Crickets to a 6-3 win, sweeping the season series against the No. 6 ranked Macks, who were the No. 2 seed in the sectional half-bracket to the Crickets No. 1. FC also won over McDonell (19-3) this spring 6-5 and 10-0 which helped them clinch the Western Cloverbelt title.

It shows a resilliance in the ballclub and a strong make up of not just talent but also character and focus, an ability to get over mistakes quickly and get ready to play again.

That was true last week in the D-4 regional tournament which was played in Fall Creek and led to the Crickets' fourth straight regional title. FCHS downed No. 8 seed Glenwood City (6-13) in the semifinals Tuesday, May 21 by a 12-2 score in five innings, then beat Boyceville (14-7) in the finals Thursday, May 23. The No. 4 seed Bulldogs led for three innings 1-0 but FC rallied back in the third when the Crickets senior second baseman Averie Barka and senior outfielder Elena Raffensberger hit RBI-singles and came home themselves thanks to Boyceville mistakes. Barka got her second RBI-single to score junior third baseman Kennedy Tumm for a 5-1 in fourth and Johnson belted an RBI-double for a 6-1 margin that was the final score in seven innings.

Boyceville head coach Jamie Olson could only lament his team's strong, competitive play was negated by its mistakes in the third but FC head coach Brad Ceranski would remark that the Crickets showed great focus and patience not to let their mistakes come back to hurt them elsewhere.

"It's pretty basic but it's just a simple of matter keeping your attention locked on the the next at-bat, the next pitch, the next throw and nothing else," Ceranski said. "You don't want to play this game under pressure or
looking behind or ahead because that's when mistakes happen. We didn't start well but we kept at it until things began to work for us and we went from there."

The same was true against the Macks. FC got the jump but McDonell struck back with three runs scored in the top of the fourth. Fall Creek simply responded instead of panicked by adding some insurance runs in their next at bats which allowed winning pitcher, junior Gracie Herrem, also the winner against Boyceville, plenty of space to operate as she struck out nine batters, scattered five hits and walked none.

Grantsburg made it to the finals by knocking off West Lakeland Conference rival and No. 2 seed Shell Lake (16-7) by a 6-4 score in the other semifinal Tuesday at Grantsburg. The Pirates are led once again by their pitcher, six-foot sophomore Piper Olson. Junior first baseman Whitney Myers is the a team leader in batting average at .647 along with 21 RBIs and three home runs. She also pitches and has five wins this season with a 1.69 ERA. Freshman infielder Kate Peterson is batting over .700 for the Pirates and teammate sophomore catcher Ruby Rengo has 19 RBIs this season.

The state tournament is next weekend in Madison at Goodman Diamond on the University of Wisconsin campus. The Division 4 state semifinals will be played on Thursday, June 6 starting at 4:30 p.m.



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