By Greg Bates
ACN & Times-Press sports correspondent
NEW LONDON – Karri Vanden Langenberg was in the car the other day and a familiar 1980s song popped on the radio: Twisted Sisters’ “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
The Seymour softball coach thought it was a good anthem for inspiration before her team prepared to take on New London in a late-season battle with first place up for grabs in the Bay Conference.
Vanden Langenberg printed off the lyrics prior to her team’s bus ride to New London on Tuesday, May 9. She asked the players to sing the song, which was released way before the high schoolers were born.
“Every time we came into the huddle, it was, ‘We’re not gonna to take it. We’ve got to go out there and prove that we can do it,’” Vanden Langenberg said.
Seymour proved it wasn’t going to be pushed around by the defending conference champions. The Thunder scored runs in each of the first four innings and sophomore Paige Weyers pitched out of numerous jams as Seymour defeated New London, 5-1.
The win upped Seymour’s conference record to 10-1 and put a stranglehold on first place with New London sitting at 10-2, with both losses coming against Seymour.
It was a huge victory for Seymour, which is trying to capture its first conference crown since 2000.
“Absolutely huge,” Vanden Langenberg said. “Going into this game, we talked about focus, we talked about discipline, we talked about all of the things we’ve done thus far to get to this point and how it was going to be quality vs. quantity in practice. We needed to work on all of our quality at-bats and all of our quality fielding and all of our quality throws. I think it showed.”
The game featured a battle of state-ranked teams. Seymour (12-1) entered the week No. 6 in Division 2 in the latest Wisconsin Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association/WisSports.net Coaches Poll, while New London (14-5) was No. 9.
The showdown lived up to its billing.
“Personally, I would rather win a close game or lose a close game,” Seymour shortstop Raven Vanden Langenberg said. “I like close games, I like good competition. They are a huge competition, it’s just great having to play them. If all of the conference teams could be like a New London or Shawano, we would just have a heck of a lot of fun.”
Seymour played nearly flawless in all aspects of the game. They pounded out nine hits, were clutch in key situations both offensively and defensively, and the defense didn’t commit an error.
Weyer was magnificent, scattering eight hitters and stranding 11 runners, six in scoring position.
“I knew once runners were on I really had to step it up and just like try to find the hitter’s weakness, and it worked out for us,” Weyer said.
“Paige did really well,” Raven Vanden Langenberg said. “We always tell her, ‘Paige, we have your back. If you need to lay it over the plate and let them hit it, we’ve got your back.’”
Seymour didn’t waste any time getting the bats going against New London pitcher Leah Porath. Joeley Bluma opened the game with a double to right-center field. With one out, Raven Vanden Langenberg ripped a single to center as Bluma came around to score.
In the second inning, the Thunder got back-to-back singles from the King twins, Diahanna and Dinah. Ashley Thomas reached on a fielder’s choice as Diahanna King was cut down at third base. Deiondra Wussow laid down a sacrifice bunt to move both runners up one base. Bluma came to the plate and stroked a two-run single to put Seymour up 3-0.
In a game of this magnitude, an early three-run cushion was enormous for the Thunder.
“We have been scoring a lot of innings late and that was one of our focuses is that we needed to score right away,” coach Vanden Langenberg said. “We had to jump on them right away. Maybe not necessarily scoring, but we had to get on base – show them that we could hit the ball and get on base. And to come up with some clutch runs in the first couple of innings was huge.”
Weyer wasn’t too worried about the score, she was in a zone about her responsibilities.
“It is nice to have that cushion just in case and I just try to pitch my game no matter what,” she said.
New London threatened in the second with runners on second and third with just one out. However, Weyer retired the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters in the order to get out of the jam unscathed.
Vanden Langenberg and Weyer opened the third inning with singles. Savannah Thielbar sacrificed the runners over to second and third with one out. The next hitter Diahanna King was given the safety squeeze call by coach Vanden Langenberg and she laid down a nice bunt. Raven Vanden Langenberg was tagged out at the plate and New London’s catcher quickly threw the ball to the first baseman, who had King caught up in rundown between first and second. Weyer all the while raced around from second to score the fourth run, and King was eventually tagged out.
“We had optimal runners in scoring position,” coach Vanden Langenberg said. “Obviously, Raven’s an experienced runner. She plays ball year-long, too. Looking at it, she knew what she had to do. (Diahanna) King is one of our best bunters, so we’ve practiced and practiced and practiced and I thought this was the perfect opportunity. I will give up an out for it. The other thing with the King twins is Diahanna loves to get in pickles. As you can see, she did well. She’s all about practicing pickles in practice, and it shows.”
Freshman Dinah King led off the fourth inning for Seymour with a towering home run to left-center field. It was the first of her high school and put the Thunder up 5-0.
New London had first and second one out in the fifth, but Weyer shut the door again without surrendering a run.
McCoy Mix started New London’s seventh inning with a single, moved to second base on a one-out base hit by Faith Carothers and third on a wild pitch. Erin O’Connell hit a sacrifice fly to right field as Mix came across for New London’s first run. Maddie Ruckdashel singled to set up first and third, but Weyer retired the next hitter on a groundout to end the game.
After the win, Seymour needed just three more victories to wrap up its first conference championship in 17 years.
“You can almost taste it,” coach Vanden Langenberg said.
The Seymour players know they just need to stay focused. Solid, consistent play will reward them in the end.
“We can’t take any other game lightly, we can’t take any other practice lightly,” Raven Vanden Langenberg said. “We come tomorrow and we come ready to go.”
Deiondra Wussow runs to tag out the Xavier opponent on Thursday, May 4. The Lady Thunder defeated Xavier 19-1. – Submitted photo
By Greg Bates