The No. 1–seeded Fox River Classic Conference champs were six outs away from having their season end way too early as Appleton East pitcher Sydney Pftonenhauer was holding the Hornets scoreless.
Fortunately, Preble trailed just 1-0 and by the end of the sixth inning the Hornets had turned the tables, scoring two runs. Anna Conard then shut the door on the Patriots, sending Preble to a Division 1 sectional semifinal with a 2-1 win.
“They do such a nice job throwing the ball in the exact location they want,” Preble coach Ron Metzler said of East. “We knew she would pitch that way. We wanted to knock the ball all over the park and we didn’t.”
Conard was the main reason Preble was one run down. She struck out 13, allowed four hits and the lone run was scored in the first inning.
“They were not getting anything more off me,” Conard said.
That allowed a usual potent offense a chance to get a read on Pfotenhauer, who's left-handed. That read came in the sixth with Conard led off with a single. Two batters later, catcher Payton Sampson drove in pinch-runner J'Annah Chiles and Sampson advanced to third on a miscue in center field.
Kassidy Koch then scored Sampson on a sacrifice fly and a once quiet Preble dugout erupted.
“A lot of emotions; there’s four seniors on the team, we don’t want to end it here,” Conard said. “We pulled everything out and we won it.”
Knowing the road will only get tougher the rest of the way, Preble knows pulling off a win late could be beneficial.
“On one hand you wish you would’ve pounded them so it wouldn’t have been so close,” Metzler said. “On the other hand, thank goodness we had another close game we won.”
“It gives us a lot of confidence,” Conard said. “We could meet a lot of good teams out there. We just need this momentum to carry us.”
Preble’s win was notable for East, a team used to ending its season at Goodman Diamond in Madison at the state tournament. The Patriots had their streak stopped at six straight seasons of reaching the state tournament.
On the other hand, Preble’s trying to get there for the first time.
“(They’re) crazy hungry,” Metzler said. “These seniors came out as little kids and watched Preble and said, ‘We can do this.’”
Preble has two more wins to get before reaching the state tournament. Tuesday, the Hornets host fast-throwing Maddie Boyd and Appleton North, which blanked Green Bay East, 6-0, on Thursday.
“(It would be) very big,” Conard said of reaching state. “It would just a great feeling to be part of that team.”
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay