MADISON — You could hear it afterwards in the voices — tired, worn out, but also happy.
That’s how you feel when you play a championship softball game and it lasts 3 hours, 45 minutes and 15 innings.
Basically every ounce of energy is drained from your body.
That’s how the Kimberly softball team felt and looked after capturing the Division 1 state title Saturday at Goodman Diamond. The Papermakers outlasted Westosha Central, 6-5, in the longest game in state tournament history.
This game had everything, but fortunately for Kimberly the wait was worth it as it won its seventh state title when Carleigh Johnson smacked a home run in the top of the 15th inning.
“So many innings, it’s an awesome feeling,” coach Bill Weyers said. “You know, there were times when I thought, ‘Here we go, here we go,’ then we have a miscue or something, but you know what we never, never gave up.
“We kept on battling. We just kept on and just kept on.”
Johnson had a team-high four regular-season home runs and she added her fifth in dramatic fashion. The game was tied 4-all after seven innings and then each team plated a run in the ninth.
The next six innings had everybody on the edge of their seats until Johnson lofted a home run over the left-center field fence. The Papermakers’ fans then jumped up in celebration.
“I was looking for my pitch, right down the middle and that’s what I found,” said Johnson, an outfielder. “I just hit it. I didn’t really know if it was a home run. I was just running around the bases when I heard the crowd cheer.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my god.’ It was so exciting.”
Third baseman Jenna Smarzinski almost supplied the championship-winning hit when her single to left field gave Kimberly a 5-4 lead in the ninth until Central tied it in the bottom of the inning. Still, she was all smiles when talking about Johnson.
“I knew we needed something, so I think she planned it out perfectly, perfect timing, perfect hit, perfect,” she said. “Everything was perfect.”
While Johnson supplied the heroics, pitcher Megan Kleist was equally impressive, throwing 225 pitches. When talking afterwards, she was noticeably tired, but she allowed just one run in eight extra innings against a quality hitting team.
“I think it was mostly ,” Kleist said. “Coming off of Carlegh’s hit , I just had to pull it out for my team and I knew they would pull it out for me in the end as well.”
Kimberly (27-3) never knew it would take 15 innings and almost four hours to win a state title, but in the end, the Papermakers were not complaining.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game, but I definitely didn’t expect how many innings we played,” Kleist said. “I’m so glad we pulled it out and came out with the win. I’m just so happy for everyone.”
After reserve shortstop Clauida Randerson recorded the final out by catching a soft line drive the Papermakers celebrated on the field, running all over hugging each other.
Despite the length of the game the players had plenty of energy to celebrate.
“It’s just an unbelievable experience,” Smarzinski said. “From Day 1 this is every player’s dream, to be here, bring home the gold.
“We just knew we could get it done and I think the whole journey brought us together. It’s just an amazing experience.”
Amazing is right and nobody will dispute Kimberly earned this state title.
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay