Cardinal energy after rain delay propels team to WIAA Division 3 Softball title

By John McLoone
Posted 6/12/24

The Prescott Cardinals took advantage of a break in the action Saturday and emerged from the 1-1/2 -hour rain delay with energy and momentum that culminated three innings later with the team’s …

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Cardinal energy after rain delay propels team to WIAA Division 3 Softball title


The Prescott Cardinals took advantage of a break in the action Saturday and emerged from the 1-1/2 -hour rain delay with energy and momentum that culminated three innings later with the team’s first-ever softball championship.

When shortstop Cadyn Hillebrand caught a popup for the final out, the Cardinals celebrated at the pitcher’s mound. Prescott had been in three of the past five WIAA State Softball Tournaments, advancing to the championship game in 2021 but were unable to grab the top trophy until Saturday’s Division 3 Championship at Goodman Diamond in Madison.

The girls saluted their fans who have followed through ups and downs this season. The Cardinals dropped four of their last six regular season games, including a pair to Ellsworth in the last week of the conference season that secured the Middle Border title for the Panthers.

A different Prescott team emerged for the post-season, behind the arm of senior pitcher Ella Stewart, the Cardinals won regional and sectional titles, earning the right to face defending champion Brodhead on Friday, June 7. With the bases loaded in the top of the seventh inning, senior Megan Richter emptied them with a double, propelling Prescott into the championship game with a 4-1 victory.

In Saturday’s 3-1 victory in the championship game, the game was knotted 1-1 when drizzle turned into driving rain, causing the umpires to quickly call a rain delay.

Grace Ptacek knocked in the first run of the game in the second inning. After singles from Hillebrand and Stewart, Ptacek placed an RBI single to left field. Hillebrand slid safely home, and the Cardinals were on the board. Laconia answered with a run in the third to tie the game.

When the deluge hit, Ptacek was up to bat in the bottom of the fourth. Talli Roth had started the inning with a single up the middle and took second on an error. Lydia Feran came in as pinch runner.

With fans scrambling for cover and teams in the dugout, eventually the field crew came out to roll the infield to get rid of standing puddles of water. The game announcer started playing music and urged fans to dance. The Laconia team emerged from the dugout and participated.

The Cardinals, however, went to the practice area behind the stadium and went to work.

When the teams got back on the field, it was quickly obvious that Prescott had momentum. With Ptacek up to bat, Feran took third on a wild pitch. Ptacek walked and took second on a wild pitch. Jeanne Rohl then earned a walk, and Laconia changed pitchers. With two outs and the bases loaded, Prescott catcher Leah French had the hit of the game, a single to left that brought Feran and Ptacek across home plate and the big Prescott contingent of fans to their feet.

With a 3-1 lead, Prescott’s defense went to work, putting Laconia’s final nine batters out. Kelsey Sterud snared a nice fly ball in center in the fifth, and Rory Zuehlsdorf grabbed a pop fly in foul territory. In the sixth, Laconia went down on two pop flies and a strikeout. In the final inning, Feran caught a fly ball in left field. Stewart struck out batter number two, and Laconia put in a pinch hitter for its final at bat, and Hillebrand easily grabbed her popup.

Stewart allowed just three hits in another of her playoff gems. She struck out four Laconia batters. Prescott had eight hits, with French picking up two of them.

Stewart said the rain delay was the turning point.

“It was actually a pretty helpful rain delay because we used that time to get extra reps and warm up, and if we had to make adjustments during the game, we made our adjustments during that rain delay, so it was very helpful,” she said. “Their pitchers seemed to not be having a great time out there after the rain delay, so we really wanted to take advantage of that.”

Cardinal coach Nick Johnson was coaching in his second championship game. His first in 2021 had been moved to Green Bay because games weren’t allowed in Madison for COVID reasons. The start of that game was delayed for several hours because of storms. Prescott came up short in that one to champion Dodgeville.

“It’s easy to say because we won, but I think the rain delay helped us. We got a breather. We got a break. The girls rested for a half hour, and then we went back to where the batting cages are, and we went to work. We went onto the infield back there and took ground balls. We took fly balls. We kind of re-energized and got refocused when their team was out dancing,” said Johnson. “I thought that was a big turning point. We came up, we load the bases. We score two runs right off that bat. I think it helped us. I think we used that time to our advantage, and the rest was history.”

The Cardinals were eager for the title game after beating Brodhead, said Richter.

“Obviously the state tournament is nerve-wracking, but we were so excited and had full confidence that we could take home the gold, and that’s exactly what we did,” she said. “We said, ‘It’s just another game.’ We had to be excited and had to give everything that we had, but it was just a normal game. We couldn’t get ourselves worked up, and we stayed in it, and we brought home the gold.”

Against Brodhead, Prescott got the first run in the second inning. Hillebrand drew a walk and advanced to second on Stewart’s sacrifice bunt. Ptacek hit her home with a single to center.

Brodhead tied the game in the fourth, and it stayed that way until Richter’s seventh inning double vaulted the Cardinals into the championship game. Brodhead loaded the bases in its half of the seventh with one out. Stewart struck out the next batter, and Feran caught a fly ball to end the game.

Stewart struck out three Brodhead batters. Prescott picked up nine hits in the game, with Zuehlsdorf collecting three of those.

The Cardinals close the season with a 21-8 record. They’ll miss their two outgoing seniors, but otherwise will return a championship-caliber roster next season.

Prescott Cardinals, girls softball, WIAA Division 3 State Championship, Madison