After having met twice during the regular season, the Shiocton and Pacelli softball teams knew one another’s games very well.
So when the two teams squared off on the biggest stage, in the WIAA Division 4 state tournament at Goodman Diamond in Madison, there weren’t too many surprises.
One difference, though, was the effectiveness of Pacelli star pitcher Brook Nagorski. She was coming off an injury in the previous two matchups, which Shiocton won 7-3 and 5-4.
Nagorski was on her game at state. She held the Shiocton hitters to just four hits – two in the first six innings – and struck out 10. Shiocton senior pitcher Sydney Wilcox was just as solid, allowing just three hits, no earned runs and one walk.
But it came down to defense as Shiocton committed four errors and Pacelli took advantage with three runs in the sixth to pull off a 3-0 victory on Friday, June 9.
“I knew it was going to be a low-scoring game,” Wilcox said. “I figured one team was either going to have a big hit or one team was going to mess up sometime and that’s going to be the game, and that’s kind of what happened.”
Coach Dave Wilcox, Sydney’s dad, felt his girls were a little hyped up playing at state.
“It wasn’t for a lack of effort at all,” coach Wilcox said. “I do feel they came out a little bit, not with more energy, but just a little bit more focus maybe than we did. And I don’t know if that comes from experience. If that comes from the fact that we beat them twice – a little bit of both. Or perhaps coincidence.”
It had the feel of a pitchers’ duel early on in the game. Pacelli, which ended up losing to Juda/Albany 2-1 in the state title game the next day, stranded three runners in the first five innings. Shiocton (22-8) could only muster one single in the opening five frames.
Pacelli (20-8) leadoff hitter Paige Hintz started the sixth by reaching on an error. She moved to third on a groundout and wild pitch. Caitlin Firkus hit a ground ball to shortstop and Tina Ubl looked the runner back and fired to first, but the ball was dropped. Hintz came home to score the first run of the game on Shiocton’s fourth error.
“I don’t know whether she was going to continue home or not, but had she I think we would have had a play on her,” coach Wilcox said.
Sydney Wilcox retired the next hitter and Chrissy Shafranski walked with two outs. Designated player Karah Kluth came to the plate and delivered a two-run triple to right field to make it 3-0.
“That was really frustrating,” Sydney Wilcox said. “I think it’s even more frustrating looking back and seeing that big triple that (Kluth) had that she should have never even been up. We should have been out of that inning.”
In the bottom of the sixth, Shiocton’s Kellyn Van Straten stroked a base hit and advanced to second on a Leigh Young groundout. With two down, Jackie Korth struck out to end the threat.
Shiocton started the seventh with singles by Wilcox and Ubl. Gabby Gunderson struck out and Allison Erickson walked to load the bases with just one out. Trina Young lined out to bring up No. 8 hitter Erica Gassner. The sophomore had come up big in the postseason with a home run in the sectional final victory over Lourdes Academy. But Gassner grounded out to end the game.
“I was very confident she was going to put the bat on the ball, which she did,” coach Wilcox said. “Even with that, the shortstop made a pretty tough short hop field on that ball.
Shiocton couldn’t get the clutch hit all game long, something that was very uncommon the last three-quarters of the season.
“That was the most disappointing thing to me was our approach at the plate early in the game,” coach Wilcox said. “We’ve been preaching all year to stay off of that high stuff and our most experienced batters were I think just a little too hyped up with trying to do everything themselves with one swing of the bat. And that can’t happen.”
The loss put an end to an unbelievable season by Shiocton. The Chiefs started the year 2-6 after dropping three of five games in Florida against some top-notch schools from around the country.
“We just grew so close through that experience and being together for that whole week,” Sydney Wilcox said. “I feel like we literally became a family. We all talked about it and said, ‘You know, we should just turn this around. We’re a good team.’”
Said coach Wilcox: “I wasn’t too disappointing to be 2-3 coming back from Florida, because you’re figuring some things out. We really played some high-enrollment schools down there. That trip was almost like an exhibition season. But to come back and go 0-3 out of the gates from there, we started to think, ‘Where are we at here?’ We did consider some changes and what are weak spots were. And a credit to our coaching staff and our girls, we stayed the course, because we just had too much positives results over time with this group and what we were doing than we had negative. I think we made the right decision just to stick with what we had.”
Shiocton turned it around in a big way. It rattled off 20 wins in the next 21 games – including wins over Pacelli and Division 3 state runner-up Weyauwega-Fremont — to win a sectional title for the first time in program history.
“We had so many first this year: the first sectional championship, the first varsity roundtable (on Postcrescent.com) that we did,” Sydney Wilcox said. “It’s just really special to know that we got there. Everyone wants to win a state championship, but you’ve got to remember only four teams from each division even make it there. We did really well, honestly. I just so proud of everyone.”
Wilcox, the team’s starting pitcher for four years, was the lone senior on the team. It was quite a ride for the star hurler, who will play next season at Upper Iowa University. Wilcox knew coming into her freshman year she would be relied to carry the load throughout her high school career, and she delivered.
“I cannot commend her enough for just how she handled it,” coach Wilcox said. “She had all pressure in the world that can be put on you. The expectation, the most profiled position on the field and then the heading coach being her dad. It’s simply amazing how well she’s handled herself and how successful she’s been.”
Wilcox ended her career on the mound with a 58-18 record. She worked 461 innings with an earned run average of 1.38. At the plate, Wilcox had a .458 average with 149 hits, 45 doubles and 23 home runs.
Losing just one senior – although a gigantic loss – means Shiocton will have a ton of experience back for next season.
Filing the pitching vacancy will be senior-to-be Gunderson along with sophomore-to-be Cassidy Defferding.
“It’s going to be a little bit different feel with the team as far as you’re not going to have that dominant-style pitcher,” coach Wilcox said. “You’re going to have a more of a pitcher (Gunderson) that’s pitching to contact and it’s going to be really important for our defense to play well next year. I’m not worried about that with the experience we’ve had and good groups coming up behind them.”
Coach Wilcox has a strong freshman class coming up and a number of good sophomores who didn’t see a lot of time this year on varsity.
“I like program and I like what’s coming up from underneath,” he said. “Our senior class is going to be just solid next year.”