Co-players of the year have built friendship for past decade, will both play college softball

Josie Klein, Gracie Peterson and Jaina Westphal celebrate after getting out of an inning with a solid defensive play during a victory over Chippewa Falls at the state tournament in June. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

 

By Mike Ramczyk and Andrew Horschak

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

During an unconventional softball season where a team like Burlington makes its first state tournament in 30 years and traditional powers like Wilmot and Westosha Central withstand rare “down” seasons, it’s only fitting to shake it up at the top of the mountain.

Sitting at the apex, for the first time in the three years of the All-Southern Lakes Newspapers Softball team are two players, Josie Klein and Jaina Westphal.

Co-captains of a Demons squad that went 22-6 and was a few errors away from a state championship, Klein and Westphal are equally deserving of the All-Area Player of the Year honor.

While last year’s winner, Kallista Hribar of Union Grove, blew away the competition with a power surge of 17 home runs and a .658 batting average, Westphal and Klein shined brightest when the stakes were highest.

After hitting .480 for the season as the team’s leadoff spark, Westphal, a Division 1 Valparaiso University recruit, took her game to another level in the postseason.

In three state tournament games, Westphal reached base 11 of 13 times, hitting .800 with five singles, two doubles, a triple, five runs and five stolen bases.

It was clear she was the most dominant player in the Division 1 state tournament, outside of Wisconsin recruit Maddie Gardner, who shut down the Demons in the state title game.

All Klein did was go 5-1 in the postseason and 18-3 on the season as the team’s gritty, savvy pitcher.

At the plate, Klein led the team with a .561 average.

Both Klein and Westphal earned first team all-state honors, along with first team all-county.

Klein was the Racine County player of the year and Southern Lakes Conference player of the year.

Two times in the last month of the season, Westphal and Klein, the No. 1 and 3 hitters in the lineup, both hit home runs in the first inning, against Wilmot to help take the conference lead and against Westosha Central to help punch their ticket to state.

Friends for the past 10 years, both girls will play college softball, and they led the Demons on and off the field all season.

 

– Here’s an excerpt from a story on the dynamic duo that ran in the June 14 Burlington Standard Press:

      Teammates going back to their days playing for the 10U Wisconsin Lightning, Klein and Westphal made their final season together one to remember as captains of the WIAA Division 1 state runner-up Burlington softball team.

“Throughout the whole season, I’ve been so honored to be the captain of this team,” Westphal said. “We weren’t the only leaders, though. We had so many other girls step up to the plate to offer inspiration and energy to keep us going. When we were down (in the sectional semifinal vs. Elkhorn), we had girls saying, ‘We’re not done yet. We can still do this.’

Klein, named the Southern Lakes Conference Player of the Year after helping the Demons secure their first conference title in more than three decades, said advancing to Madison was the perfect culmination as a varsity player.

“One of my dreams throughout my whole softball career was to go to state,” she said. “It was just awesome to be able to do that and it was just awesome to lead our team this far (as a captain).”

And, as expected, Klein and Westphal both performed admirably in their state tourney debut.

“Her energy,” Klein said when asked about the best attribute of her friend and fellow first-team All-SLC selection. “She just has so much energy and passion and drive for the game.”

After a brief break, the two will begin their busy summers with their respective club teams. Klein plays for Mequon-based B.A.T.S Academy, while Westphal plays for the Beverly Bandits out of Chicago.

“We’re on different teams in the summer, but we would still see each other at tournaments,” Westphal said. “This summer there are no tournaments that match up. We’re not going to be together anymore. I won’t see her that much. It’s really sad.”

Then, it will be off to college and even more softball. Klein is heading to NCAA Division III Lake Forest College, while Westphal is heading to NCAA Division I Valparaiso University in Indiana.

“I’m so excited,” Westphal said. “I just got back from orientation. I slept in the dorms. I picked out my schedule. It’s getting so real.”

As they pack for their college destinations in a couple months, Klein and Westphal will also take with them some special memories from an exhilarating state tourney run.

“Being there in the crazy atmosphere,” Westphal said, “looking up in the stands and seeing all of my friends and family and people I didn’t even know come support Burlington was just an amazing feeling that I will never forget.”

 

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