By Greg Bates
Times Press sports correspondent
DE PERE — After winning the Bay Conference title in 2017 and ’18, the players in the Seymour softball program know what it takes to win championships.
The conference title plaques are lined up on a wall at the high school. Prior to this season, coach Karri Vanden Langenberg had her girls sit in front of the wall and envision hanging another plaque.
On Tuesday, May 14 the Thunder had its chance to win a third straight championship as Seymour and West De Pere, both sitting at 10-1 in conference play, squared off. Seymour’s lone loss was at home against West De Pere on April 23.
Similar to the first matchup between the two squads, it was a tight game late. Tied at 1-1, Seymour manufactured a four-run sixth inning and held on for a 5-2 victory on the road.
“This is great,” Seymour junior catcher Chloe Evans said. “We knew that coming into this it was either ours or theirs, and it all came down to who wanted it more.”
After winning back-to-back conference championships, Seymour lost an extremely strong senior class last year that included arguably the program’s best player of all time, Raven Vanden Langenberg. The Thunder players came together this season as a team on a mission.
“We still have some really good hitters,” coach Vanden Langenberg said. “We still have Paige Weyer, who’s pitching in the circle phenomenally.”
Yes, having solid pitching and timely hitting is huge in softball. Seymour (19-1) got both of those in the de facto conference championship.
Seymour, which is ranked No. 6 in Division 2 in the latest Wissports.net Coaches Poll, couldn’t get much going at the plate in its only loss of the season against West De Pere.
“We talked a lot in practice yesterday about that first game and how we only had one hit,” Vanden Langenberg said. “We gave up two runs on errors, so we knew we had to play better defense, control the game a little more and have it at our pace.”
Seymour, which has won 11 consecutive games, couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. On the fourth pitch of the game, Evans got ahold of a pitch from West De Pere pitcher Genesis Eggart and drove it over the right-field fence. It was Evans’ 12th home run of the season.
“I think it got everybody feeling like confidence about this,” Evans said. “I know after that we didn’t do so hot but we finally pulled it together.”
West De Pere (15-4, 10-2 Bay) answered in the bottom half of the inning. Hannah Bearson laced an RBI double with two outs to tie the game. The Phantoms loaded the bases but Seymour pitcher Paige Weyer got out of the jam by surrendering just one unearned run.
The next four innings, Eggart baffled the Seymour hitters and allowed just one baserunner. Meanwhile, West De Pere had runners on all four innings but couldn’t score.
With the top of the order due to hit in the sixth, coach Vanden Langenberg knew she had to try and manufacture some runs if her team was going to pull off the victory.
“We had to go back to the small game,” Vanden Langenberg said. “We weren’t getting those great big hits that we needed, so we went back and played a little small ball and it worked out in our favor.”
With one out, Evans stepped to the plate. West De Pere knew how dangerous Evans can be.
“She basically hit two home runs tonight – that second one just went foul,” West De Pere coach Tom Zimdars said. “We just weren’t going to let her take us deep. We pitched her careful and she still got a base hit out of it.”
Evans stroked a single and Diahanna King followed with a base hit. West De Pere right fielder Taylor Degroot let the ball trickle by her and Evans came all the way around to score and give Seymour the lead.
Weyer walked and stole second to set up cleanup hitter Dinah King with two runners in scoring position. With her twin sister, Diahanna, on third base, Dinah laid a bunt down the first base line. First baseman Anna Young, who was playing in, fielded the ball and tried to tag Dinah down the line. However, Young never touched the Dinah, who ducked, as Diahanna crossed the plate. Weyer then scored on a passed ball. Olivia Wery followed by stroking a single to plate Dinah King to open up a four-run lead, 5-1.
Playing small ball worked out perfectly for Seymour.
“It really gets in their head and wears them down,” Evans said. “It can wear us down but it’s all about who can be the strongest at the end.”
West De Pere tried to mount a comeback in the seventh. The Phantoms got a leadoff hit and Weyer retired the next two hitters. Bearson and Eggart had back-to-back singles to plate a run. With runners on first and third and two out, Weyer got No. 6 hitter Brianna Destache to pop out as Dinah King made a great running catch while hitting the fence.
The Seymour players all ran into the infield to celebrate the conference title.
It certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the strong pitching performance from Weyer. She stranded 10 West De Pere runners, five in scoring position.
“Paige is pitching great right now, it’s really been coming together,” Evans said. “She’s been working on just hitting her spots and girls that are struggling in those certain spots she just keeps pounding. That’s really what’s been working this year.”
Said Vanden Langenberg: “She’s a beast to be reckoned with when she focuses in. Her and Chloe are a great duo, so we look forward to competing the rest of the way.”
Evans’ great game behind the plate and timely hitting was also key. With two runs scored, she was the catalyst of the big sixth inning.
“Chloe’s phenomenal. She’s just an all-around player,” Vanden Langenberg said. “She enjoys being behind the plate, she enjoys being in control. But when she gets up to bat, man, she’s looking for certain pitches and when you give her those pitches she doesn’t hold back.”
This is Evans’ second season at Seymour after transferring from Oshkosh Lourdes following her freshman year. Winning two conference titles in her first two years has been quite a feat.
“I knew we’d be good but I wasn’t quite sure how good,” Evans said. “It really has all come together so far.”
Seymour earned a No. 1 seed in the WIAA Division 2 playoffs and will host the winner of No. 8 Two Rivers-No. 9 Notre Dame on Tuesday, May 21. Sectional play gets underway on May 28.
After early exits in the postseason the past two years, Seymour is hoping this is the year to break through to the state tournament.
Coming off the win to claim the conference title is important.
“It’s going to give us a lot of momentum going into playoffs and it really helps boost our confidence about this,” Evans said. “I think when we broke out our offense and our bats, it really gets everybody going and that’s what we have to focus on.”