POYNETTE — There were few, if any, words spoken by the Poynette softball team on their 177-kilometer trip from the Bluff View Intermediate School in Prairie du Chien following last season’s WIAA Division 3 sectional final defeat to Dodgeville.
“The bus ride back was super smooth,” said Abby Klink, a senior at Poynette.
“Especially with all the great games we had before that, we were full of emotions for a good part of that playoff season. When we lost, we all reflected on it on the bus home.”
The Cougars reflected on what could have been – a third straight WIAA state tournament appearance, a chance to defend their Division 3 state title, and a memorable first season for new coach Matt Ramberg.
The Pumas ensured that things were different this year – returning to the sectional final nearly a year later, on the same fateful field at Prairie du Chien, and scoring a 6-2 win over Westby to return to state for the first time in four years.
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“The girls haven’t forgotten, and neither have I,” Ramberg said. “I thought about it a lot last year, and it could have been different, but it was the way it was.
“This year, we spent a little more time getting some things right and tweaking, and it was really exciting.”
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The Pumas, who received seed number 2, will face third-placed Wautoma (25-4) in Friday’s Division 3 semi-finals, with a chance to play for a sixth championship, which would tie them with the second-highest ever. the times at WIAA. story. The winner between Poynette (19-5) and the Hornets will face either Baldwin-Woodville (19-5) or No. 4 New Holstein (19-5) in Saturday’s championship game.
While Poynette is in a very familiar position – the Pumas are in the state for the 12th time, tied for sixth with Verona and Mequon Homestead – most of this year’s team will make the short trip to Goodman Diamond for the first time.
Only Klink and fellow senior Ashia Meister are the only members of this year’s group with state experience, having played reserve roles on the back-to-back state title team in 2019. While that big stage experience is just with these two, Poynette and his underclassmen heavy group played in many major games outside of high school.
“I feel that even though they are young, they all have a lot of experience and most of them have played a lot of traveling ball and have been through a lot of these situations before,” Junior Brooke Steinhorst said.
That previous experience of the 10 freshmen and two sophomores was also useful during the postseason. Before pulling away from the Nordics in the sectional championship, the Pumas won 1-0 in nine innings over Cambridge in the sectional semifinals.
Poynette never had a runner advance beyond second base the entire game, and in more than half of the innings the Cougars got their first runner at base. It still didn’t produce anything until junior Holly Lowenberg made a 3-2 trade over the center field fence for a home run.
Before overcoming the Blue Jays, the Pumas scored a tense 4-1 victory over rivals Columbus. Poynette scored five other wins for three or fewer races over the course of the season.
Ramberg and Meister agreed that these wins wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for some tough defeats like last year’s semifinal loss to the Dodgers or tight losses this season to Mayville (4-2), Brodhead (3-2) and Gale – Ettrick-Trempealeau (4-3).
“We learned to lose. We could have played a non-conference calendar where we could put 8-10 runs and give up just one, but we’re not learning anything from that,” he said. “We need to see a good shot and we need to improve on base, because at the time of the playoffs that’s what we’re seeing. That was a big help to us.”
Meister added, “It was a good learning moment for us because we knew ‘Calm down, we’re fine’.”
That calm demeanor really stood out for Ramberg throughout the season, as did the Pumas’ best hit. Poynette has eight players with 20 or more hits, led by 31 from Steinhorst and 30 from Meister and Lowenberg.
The trio has combined 14 doubles, six trebles, four home runs and 46 RBIs, but they are not alone. Freshman Morgan Gunderson has 28 hits, including a pair of homers, a pair of triples and three doubles, and leads the Pumas with 20 RBIs. Freshman Kassidy McCaffery has 24 hits, including second-best seven doubles.
“It’s been sporadic at times, depending on the pitch we’ve seen, but some clutch hits; big hits; two-way hits. You wouldn’t know they were freshmen,” Ramberg said.
It helped take the load off Lowenberg, who has been Ramberg’s ace. The heavy throwing right-hander compiled a 1.25 ERA over 117⅔ innings with 201 strikeouts, 76 hits, 12 walks and 32 runs allowed.
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“It calms the nerves knowing my infield and outfield can support me easily, and offensively knowing we are a really good batting team,” she said.
Lowenberg’s nerves were calm during the final sectional victory over the Nordics as she went wide, knocking out 14 and allowing just two runs in three hits with no walks. Now, the Pumas are two wins away from another state championship in Ramberg’s sophomore year.
It’s a fitting ending for the lonely seniors, who can now end their careers with another state title and continue the show’s proud history at the grand ball.
“These veterans really wanted this year and they pushed some of the younger group and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got the talent to do this. Look what we did last year,’ and I was really happy for them,” Ramberg said.
“After last year’s 1-0 loss to Dodgeville and thinking about it all year, finally getting there after a couple of tight playoff games is good.”
Follow Sean Davis on Twitter @SDavis_PDR or contact him at 608-745-3512.