McDonell, Chippewa Falls each moving on to softball sectionals

Casper Park was the site of two softball regional championships games Thursday. The Division 4 Sectional 1B No. 2 seed McDonell Macks hosted the hot-hitting third-seeded Colfax Vikings while Division 1 Sectional 1 No. 4 seed Chippewa Falls simultaneously took on No. 5 Wisconsin Rapids.

It wound up being a fruitful day for both as the Macks beat Colfax 10-0 in six innings and the Cardinals pulled away late for a 9-0 win just a few minutes after McDonell’s win.

In the Division 4 regional, McDonell was up against a Colfax team that came into the game batting an eye-popping .398 over the season. McDonell’s season-long starting pitcher Katie Ruf stepped into the circle with what looked to be a daunting task in front of her.

Ruf had gotten off to a good start in the postseason, tossing four no-hit innings with nine strikeouts in the Macks regional semifinal win over Augusta. The senior yielded just one baserunner on an error, but Colfax’s lineup was a different challenge altogether, sporting five regular starters batting north of .400 this season.

You wouldn’t have known it watching Ruf go to work. The righthander breezed through the Colfax order the first time through. The Vikings struggled to even get the ball in play against Ruf. No matter who came to the plate, the result was almost always the same.

The top of Colfax’s lineup came to bat in the fourth looking to come back from a 4-0 deficit and Ruf simply struck out the side. The Vikings never had a chance to so much as think about a rally.

“I was throwing every pitch at my best,” Ruf said. “It didn’t matter what batter was in front of me, it didn’t matter what inning it was and it didn’t matter what the score was. I was throwing at my best. I’m just playing every game like it’s my last and I’m thankful for every inning that I get to play after today.”

Colfax junior Emma Medin drew a walk in the fifth for the Vikings first base runner of the day. Colfax put a bit of pressure on when Medin stole second, but Ruf struck out the next batter she faced to end the top of the frame.

After a 1-2-3 top of the sixth for Ruf, the Macks put the hammer down in the bottom of the frame, scoring four more runs to reach the run limit and secure the Macks second straight regional title. Ruf, all told, finished with six no-hit innings and 15 strikeouts. The ball was put in play off the senior just three times.

“She was a bulldog today,” McDonell head coach Rick Baier said. “She is the reason that we’re standing here right now.”

McDonell had a good day at the plate as well. The Macks got things rolling with two outs in the second inning. Vikings starter Laikyn Beyer was close to escaping a runners on second and third with one out jam after striking out Keagan Winger in a long battle.

She even got an awkward half-swing from McDonell nine-hole hitter Abby Bresina, but the senior got just enough on it to lace the ball into shallow left field that scored both runners. Kendall Hepfler and Rylie Christianson-Richardson then followed suit with back-to-back run-scoring hits to make it 4-0. That was more than enough for Ruf and the Macks never looked back.

McDonell advances in a sectional that doesn’t get any easier. The road to state goes through Sectional 1B No. 1 seed Fall Creek in sectional semifinals and potentially Sectional 1A No. 1 seed Grantsburg, who won its pair of regional games by a combined 32 runs.

Grantsburg and Fall Creek are ranked as the No. 1 and No. 2 Division 4 teams in the state in the latest WFSCA/ Softball Coaches Poll. McDonell’s only two losses of the season came in a doubleheader against Fall Creek in late April. Baier and Ruf said the pressure isn’t on the Macks as they know they’ll be the underdogs the rest of the way.

“I approach it the same way I approach every game. Like it’s zero-to-zero in the top of the first,” Ruf said. “There’s no pressure anymore. We are the underdog and we’re just coming out with our A game and facing whoever we get to see.”

Chippewa Falls Softball

Chippewa Falls' Mykle Buhrow (14) runs home before being mobbed by her Cardinal teammates after hitting a home run. The Cardinals beat Wisconsin Rapids 9-0 to win their seventh straight regional title.

Chippewa Falls wins seventh regional title in a row

Just a few feet away and a few minutes after McDonell hoisted its regional plaque, the Chippewa Falls Cardinals finished off a 9-0 win over Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln. The victory secured the Cardinals seventh regional title in a row.

The blueprint for Chippewa Falls wasn’t too dissimilar from what worked for McDonell. The Cardinals got another strong start from freshman pitcher Violet McIlquham after she worked through six innings of one-run ball in the Cardinals 9-1 regional semifinal win over River Falls.

The freshman worked with traffic on the bases in a few innings, but the Red Raiders weren’t able to capitalize on any chances. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were being held in check in the early innings by Wisconsin Rapids sophomore starter Baylee Williams.

Williams had to work strenuously, particularly in the first inning where the Cardinals had a couple of ducks on the pond, but didn’t surrender a run in the first three frames. McIlquham, however, matched Williams and kept the Red Raiders off the board.

“We’ve got nine seniors on our roster and to step in as a freshman is a tough job when you’re carrying the weight of a lot of seniors last season,” Chippewa Falls co-head coach Chelsea Seckora said. “I think she does a really nice job with that. She’s got great confidence. She loves to compete and she wants the ball. So that’s a good start.”

Even though the Cardinals were held scoreless in the opening three innings and couldn’t get some hard-hit balls to fall, the energy never wavered for Chippewa Falls. The Cardinals were rowdy in the dugout and never once got discouraged.

That energy paid off in the fourth inning when the Cardinals finally got on the board. With one out, senior Mykle Buhrow lifted a high flyball to right center that got over the wall for a solo home run. It opened the scoring and Chippewa Falls took it from there.

After Cardinals catcher Lauren Shepherd threw out a Wisconsin Rapids baserunner trying to steal second to end the top of the fifth inning, every Chippewa Falls player in the field was fired up. That energy carried over to the bottom of the frame where Emma McIlquham led off with another solo shot, this one to dead center. Georgia Romanowski followed that up with a double and later scored on a wild pitch to make it 3-0.

“I think it starts with Chelsea [Seckora],” Chippewa Falls co-head coach Jared Faherty said of the team’s energy. “She does just a tremendous job of really instilling that in these kids and to really have a ton of energy. She has a ton of energy. She had a ton of energy as a player back in the day, so I think it starts there and then the kids feed off of her energy and then feed off of each other and they do a nice job.”

Chippewa Falls broke it open in the bottom of the sixth, scoring six runs, two of which came on a Makenna Johnston single. The Cardinals will take on No. 1 Stevens Point next. Sectional semifinals take place Tuesday.