By Greg Bates
Times Press sports correspondent
MADISON – Chloe Evans received a text from her softball coach on Saturday morning that read: “I really hope your dreams come true, kiddo.”
On her 18th birthday, Evans was playing in the biggest game of her career. Bringing home a state title to Seymour would be the perfect present.
After launching a three-run home run late in the WIAA Division 2 state championship game against Monroe, Evans put her right fist in the air and leaped as she made her way around the bases. Evans’ teammates mobbed her as she stepped on home plate. Right after in the dugout, tears and smiles overwhelmed the junior.
“I think I was just so overjoyed because it was my birthday and everybody was just so excited and it made all my emotions come out,” said Evans, who had the home run ball in hand after the game.
With the game scoreless in the sixth inning, Seymour sent 14 hitters to the plate and tallied nine runs as it ran away with a 9-1 victory on Saturday at Goodman Diamond.
It is the first state title in Seymour softball program history.
“It’s crazy. I’m so happy,” pitcher Paige Weyer said. “This has been my goal since I’ve been playing softball. It’s just a dream come true and it’s just the perfect way to end my senior season.”
Patricia Nieland was feeling great after helping the Thunder win the title.
“Oh my God, it’s amazing,” Nieland said. “Especially being like the first team for Seymour to win one for softball, it’s a great feeling.”
Added fellow senior Olivia Wery: “It’s amazing to go out with a win. No other (Division 2) team in state won their final game and I find that insane because that’s just something special that not everyone gets to feel.”
The Seymour players, which won their final 18 games of the season, went into the game knowing they would be taking home a piece of hardware: either a gold or silver ball. Obviously, first place was the goal.
“They’ve worked so hard,” Seymour seventh-year coach Karri Vanden Langenberg said. “It’s going to be in our showcase forever and it’s something these kids will remember for the rest of their lives. I told them, ‘A gold would be nice but a silver would be nice, too, and we’re going to hold our heads high.’ But I’ll tell you what, this gold feels pretty darn good.”
The title game was a stalemate for the majority of the first five innings but then No. 2-seeded Seymour finally caught some breaks in the sixth and the floodgates opened on top-seeded Monroe.
Evans started off the inning by legging out a bloop double to shallow right field. Diahanna King reached on an error by the first baseman and No. 3 hitter Weyer was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Monroe wanted to create a force at any base. The plan almost worked as Dinah King hit a ball to the third baseman who opted to throw home. Evans beat the throw and the ball squirted away from the catcher as Diahanna King came around from second to score. Evans and King jumped up and down and hugged near home plate as Seymour took a 2-0 lead. With Weyer and Dinah King both moving into scoring position on the play, Patricia Nieland came up and stroked a single to right-center field to plate two more runs.
“I didn’t hit very well to start out, so that hit meant a lot to me and to help my team out was amazing,” Nieland said.
Sophie Wery reached on a fielder’s choice as Nieland was forced out at second for the first out. Kylee Vanden Langenberg walked and an Olivia Wery bunt was fielded by pitcher Olivia Bobak but she waited too long to throw to first and Wery legged out the hit. With the bases loaded, No. 9 hitter Samantha Nieland put a ground ball to second and the throw home went awry as Sophie Wery and Vanden Langenberg both scored on the error.
With two runners on base and already a six-run inning for Seymour, Evans came up for the second time in the inning. On the fourth pitch of her at-bat, Evans hit a rocket over the right-center field wall, easily clearing the 218-foot sign, for a three-run home run. It was the perfected gift-wrapped present for Evans.
“Oh boy, it was my favorite pitch,” said Evans about her 18th home run of the season. “Right inside, my favorite pitch. They were putting me outside all game then they came in with that and I just let it go.”
Coach Vanden Langenberg watched her star catcher have a phenomenal inning with two extra-base hits, six total bases and two runs scored.
“She’s a phenomenal player, and at any point in time she can hit a dinger like she did today or she can lay down that bunt and advance to two on a bunt – she’s just that kind of kid,” Vanden Langenberg said.
Evans’ homer capped a nine-run inning as Seymour stroked five hits and took advantage of four Monroe errors. Seymour, which was ranked No. 6 in Division 2 in the most recent WFSCA/WisSports.net Coaches Poll, had managed just two hits in the first five innings against Bobak.
“We really needed to wait on it, time her out and figure everything out and once we settled in and realized we could hit her we actually got back and got to it,” Patricia Nieland said.
It marked the 14th time in 27 games this season that Seymour scored nine or more runs in a game. However, the nine-run frame was something unique. And what a time to do it, in the state championship game.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought we would score nine runs in one inning,” coach Vanden Langenberg said. “But you know what, we went back to that small ball and that small ball really has paid off for us in numerous ways with many games this year. I’m so excited for those kids to be able to perform like that at state with small ball.”
Monroe, ranked No. 3 in Division 2, threatened to score all game but Weyer was magical in the circle. She stranded nine runners on base, five of those in scoring position.
The turning point in the game up until the sixth inning was Weyer working out of a third-inning jam. The Cheesemakers loaded the bases on a pair of singles and an error with nobody out. Shortstop Dinah King fielded a ground ball and threw home for a force play for the first out. Weyer then struck out the next hitter and induced a ground out to get out of the inning. Weyer displayed a fist pump on the way back to the dugout.
“They had the bases loaded and I really just tried to concentrate on each pitch at that time,” Weyer said. “To get out of that was huge. It really brought momentum to us and kind of shut them down a little bit.”
Weyer — who scattered nine hits and struck out five while improving to 24-1 on the season — and her battery mate Evans work really well together, especially in pressure situations.
“It’s really just me telling Paige she needs to take a breath, just has to figure it out,” Evans said. “We can’t get too excited, we can’t go too fast and we just have to play our game.”
Monroe (23-5) scored its lone run of the game with a two-single in the seventh. The last batter of the game, Bobak, hit a ground ball to Samantha Nieland who threw to her sister, Patricia, at first for the final out. As the Seymour players celebrated their championship between the pitcher’s circle and first base, coach Vanden Langenberg stayed in the dugout momentarily to soak in the moment. It was the pinnacle victory of her career.
Even after the awards ceremony in which Vanden Langenberg hoisted the gold ball and nearly 30 minutes had elapsed since the final out, the realization of becoming a state champion hadn’t fully sunk in yet for Coach.
“It’s going to take a little bit of time,” Vanden Langenberg said. “But I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.”