Six-run inning too much to overcome

Burlington captains Josie Klein (left) and Jaina Westphal hold each other tight as Bridi Allen (far left) looks on after falling in Saturday’s state title game. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

MADISON -The heartbreak of an emotional, frustrating state championship loss was evident as the Burlington softball players accepted their individual state runner-up medals moments after Saturday’s 7-1 loss to Sun Prairie at Goodman Diamond in Madison in the Division 1 final.

The smiles associated with a historic season contrasted a deep, cutting feeling of pain, as Burlington head coach Gary Caliva hugged each and every one of his players for as long as they needed.

For the time, celebration simply wasn’t possible, as the Demons needed every ounce of support from each other, along with coaches to lift their large, shining silver state runner-up trophy and display it to a packed sea of Demon Orange in the standing-room-only stadium.

Tears continued as players met their families and shared one last moment in the bright lights outside of the right-field fence, roughly a half-mile from picturesque, glowing Lake Mendota and the Capitol building.

But what could seem like a negative time turned into hugs, kisses and bonding, with whispers of “We’re so proud of you” and “We love you” heard throughout the crowd of around 100 players, fans, parents, siblings friends and more.

The Demons’ seven seniors conducted a video interview and at times broke down in sadness, fearing the loss of their fellow “family member,” as an epic playoff run like this turns teammates into something more.

“I can’t explain how much fun this year has been,” Caliva said with a smile on his face, thankful for the memorable season. “Even though we got down early, they fought every inning after and put it on the line, and what more could you ask than that? You take those three errors away, and maybe it’s a different game. Hats off to them, they’re a really good team, but so are we.”

 

Errors lead to big inning

A team can only play with fire so long before it gets burned.

Granted, the Sun Prairie Cardinals were hitting the cover off the ball to start the game, but they were right at the Burlington Demons’ sure-handed infielders.

Call it a fast infield, nerves, or whatever you will, but the Demons’ greatest strength turned into a weakness on the season’s grandest stage, and Burlington’s historic run came to an end.

Sun Prairie took advantage of two Burlington errors in a six-run third inning to pull away for the victory.

It was simply one of those games where everything went right for Prairie, which had nine hits but benefitted from a confluence of errors, and nothing went right for Burlington, which totaled seven hits but struck out seven times, had a runner thrown out at home twice and often fell victim to the unstoppable rise ball of Sun Prairie sophomore Maddie Gardner.

Two consecutive errors, both on playable yet difficult ground balls, allowed the Cardinals to take the lead, and then a two-run double to right field busted the cut wide open. Burlington’s first error tied the game at 1-1.

The bleeding didn’t stop, as Gardner hurled a gem, mixing high, moving rise balls with inside precision to frustrate Burlington’s hitters, who only mustered a first-inning run.

 

Comeback ends after bizarre play

Any time the Demons got something going, it was quickly thwarted. This led to a bizarre play in the fifth, which became Burlington’s last-best chance at a comeback.

With Westphal at second, Maddie Berezowitz blooped a single to left, but the left-fielder snatched the one-hopper and fired a strike to home plate to retire Westphal and end the inning.

Or so it seemed.

Burlington coach Gary Caliva walked with a purpose up to the third-base umpire, pleading his case that Westphal was obstructed on her path home. It turns out the Cardinal shortstop didn’t get out of Westphal’s way, and in turn momentarily bumped her.

After Caliva made the umpire check with his colleague, the call was reversed and Westphal was allowed to return to second.

“The shortstop got in her way and obstructed her, and you have to call that,” Caliva said. “I don’t think she did it on purpose, Jaina ran into her, and you gotta protect your players.”

But with two outs, Josie Klein swung and missed at a high pitch to end the inning.

It was errors combined with a series of unfortunate events that helped lead to the loss. Westphal was thrown out at home earlier in the game after being a split-second late tagging at third on a line drive to center field.

Burlington was able to load the bases in the seventh, as Gracie Peterson led off with a single, and Westphal and Klein walked.

But Bridi Allen, who smashed a single in the first to drive in the team’s only run, popped out to end it.

Westphal went 3-for-3, and Kya Kafar added a base hit.

Gardner, who was 23-0 this season with an 0.48 ERA, scattered seven hits and fanned seven with three walks.

 

A season to remember

“Honestly, I feel great,” Caliva said. “This team has battled all year. I am so proud of them, I can’t stop smiling.”

“In a game like this, you have to have a couple things bounce your way.”

Burlington finished 22-6, won its first conference championship in 30 years and played in their first state championship game in 33 years.

“This year was about team chemistry and how well they fought for each other,” Caliva said. “It was a tremendous ride. I’m just glad I got to be a part of it.”

Even the average outsider recognizes the perspective in defeat.

“Five years from now, these young ladies will look back and say, ‘We made it all the way to the state championship,” said a Goodman Diamond security guard, who stood silent a mere feet from the crowd of Demons after the game.

The Demons echoed that sentiment after the game.

“I just think it’s been an awesome season,” Klein said. “It was a hell of a way to end our senior year, going to state. I didn’t think we could ever get here, and it was just an amazing opportunity. We played well.”

Leah Zinnen said leaving each other will hurt.

“Even though we’re really sad we lost, we’re even more sad we have to leave each other,” she said. “That’s the hardest part. We had a huge weekend with graduation, and leaving each other is worse.”

For Westphal, who will play Division 1 college softball at Valparaiso University, the girls didn’t get down and stayed positive despite falling behind big early on Saturday.

“Just being able to step on the field and have a glove in hand, it was an amazing feeling,” added senior Hannah Ketterhagen.

Westphal said the experience will never be forgotten. “Lady Marmalade” was the song of choice.

“It was about being with the girls, being in the hotel, being on the bus, jamming our tunes,” she said. “Listening to music before every game.”

“We’re like a second family,” an emotional Klein said.

 

 

 

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