History continues to be made by Eleva-Strum prep softball team

Cardinals win first-ever regional title, play for sectional championship

BLAIR - Does it seem strange that a high school softball program which had one just one tournament game before last year has its first regional title?

Does it seem strange that a high school softball program went from a 7-9 overall record at one point to having its first-ever winning season?

And does its seem strange that a program that never won anything before is now one-game away from the state tournament?

"It's surreal," that program's head coach Amanda Pronschinske said after No. 5 seed Eleva-Strum knocked off Large Dairyland Conference rival and No. 3 seed Blair-Taylor 2-0 on Tuesday, May 28 in the semifinals of the WIAA Division 4 sectional tournament hosted by Blair-Taylor to play for its first-ever trip to state on Thursday, May 28 against No. 8 ranked and No. 1 seeded Auburndale at B-T beginning at 5 p.m.

"You know, I and many others on staff have been coaching in this program at some level since 2011," Pronschinske continued, "and the one thing we've wanted to do to build it was to build a culture that the players could thrive in and want to play and get better at that sport. You can only do that when you have consistent coaching and you see that with a lot of the programs in the Dairyland and that's why you see some good softball played in this league. More than anything our focus has been to be a part of that and winning today and beating Melrose (Melrose-Mindoro) and today Blair-Taylor has done that and it's a credit to the hard work of our coaching staff, our players and their parents have put to get us where are today."

Where the Cardinals (13-9 overall) have flown to is an incredible amount of improvement since the start of the season. Their first two games on April 5 and April 9 came against the two teams they advanced past in the tournament, Blair-Taylor and Melrose-Mindoro, losing to both teams by identical 9-2 scores. From that point Central rattled off five wins in a row but the lost four in a row and six out of their next seven contests. Yet two of those losses were to B-T by a 3-2 score and Mel-Min, the eventual Large Dairyland Conference winner and No. 1 seed in the regional tournament, by a 1-0 margin. So where did this improvement come from? Well, as the old Billy Joel song says so well: "it was all just a matter of trust"

"Our defense had to to trust in (sophomore pitcher) Ruby (Bartholomew) to get the job done from the mound and she had to trust that they had her back and will make the plays to get the outs she needs to work with," Pronschinske said. "Sometimes it takes a whole season for it to click but when it does, it's just been tremendous to watch develop and it's been a lot of fun."

Thus the Cardinals have now won six contests in a row starting in the latter part of the season to finish with the program's first-ever winning record. They started regional play in the semifinals at No. 4 seed Mondovi (13-10) last week Tuesday, May 21 and decisively won 7-1. Two days later they were at Melrose-Mindoro (15-7) for the regional championship. E-S led 2-0 in first as freshman shortstop Maddea Brown cracked an RBI-double. The Redbirds held the lead until bottom of sixth when Mel-Min, who downed No. 8 seed Osseo-Fairchild 2-1 in their regional semifinal, plated two runs to make the score 2-2 in seventh. E-S loaded bases with one out when. Bartholomew knocked out an RBI-single to score junior outfielder Brenna Turrene and then went to work in the bottom half of the inning to get the outs the Cards needed to win their first-ever regional title by a 3-2 score.

"Trusting each other was key," Bartholomew said. "We didn’t want to lose in another close game and we wanted to make the banner for the first time in school history."

Bartholomew struck out 10 in that ballgame, giving up just four hits and three walks. She was even better against the Wildcats on Tuesday, May 28 allowing just one hit with 12 strikeouts. Nor did she limit her contributions to just the mound as she ripped an RBI-triple in the first inning to score teammate junior second baseman and lead-off batter Olivia Norby. This was followed by an RBI-double from Brown which scored junior catcher Lizzie Nordstrom. A 2-0 lead was all E-S needed to hold the line against the Wildcats (12-9) but the Cards were able to get some base runners throughout the rest of the ballgame.

"It's important, even you are not getting a lot of hits, to make contact with the ball and get on any way you can and get to running," Pronschinske said. "You don't want the 1-2-3 innings. You want to put pressure on a defense so you can make them play tighter on offense and that can give you an edge."

The Cards certainly approached the ballgame confident and relaxed, playing loud music from their portable speaker and keeping active with smiles and laughs while the field crew at B-T got the diamond ready after brief but intense rainstorm delayed the start of the ballgame. While the Cardinals are making history for the program and the school, they also playing with nothing to lose because no one thought they would make it this far other than perhaps themselves once they realized their potential.

This will help a lot in Thursday afternoon's championship game because they are taking a big step up in competition, taking on a top-seeded, state-ranked program from a hypercompetitive league like the Marawood South whose champions the Eagles are with a perfect 12-0 record. Auburndale downed conference rival and No. 3 seed Stratford (20-7) by a 5-0 score in their sectional semifinal ballgame at Auburndale. The Eagles are led by freshman pitcher Morgan Griesbach who is 15-1 with 1.26 ERA and 173 strikeouts this season and only 20 walks. She's also hit nearly .400 and is one of their top batters as well. Junior catcher and infielder Mya Krings has a .462 batting average with 36 hits and two home runs. Sophomore infielder Danika Blomberg leads the team with 23 RBIs and a .324 average while teammate senior Samantha Stanton, their Eagles' back-up pitcher and infielder, has 18 RBIs with a .348 average.



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