Thursday, two of the best softball teams in the state meet when the state’s top-ranked team, Kaukauna, hosts Kimberly in a Division 1 sectional final.
Based on their regular-season meetings, 2-1 and 1-0 wins by Kaukauna, there isn’t much that separates these teams and with both teams it starts with their pitcher.
Kimberly (22-2), which is 22-0 against teams not named Kaukauna (27-1), is paced by junior Megan Kleist, who has already committed to Oregon, while Kaukauna is led by freshman phenom Haley Hestekin. The Papermakers showed Tuesday in a 6-1 win over Beaver Dam they’re ready to spoil Kaukauna’s season.
“We feel pretty confident,” Kimberly junior third baseman Jenna Smarzinski said. “They are a great team, they have some great hitters, some great fundamental fielders. If we just keep playing like a team like we have been I think we have a chance."
Kimberly was one inning away from seeing its season end in a regional final and for a team with state title hopes that would’ve been crushing. But Smarzinski and Kleist came through with run-scoring hits in the bottom of the seventh inning to squeeze by Neenah, 4-3.
"That game just kind of helped us relax,” Smarzinski said. “I think that once we got past that game we were just ready for the tournament; we got into tournament mode and now we're just playing as a team and playing Kimberly softball.”
“I thought we were a little more focused (against Beaver Dam),” Kimberly coach Bill Weyers said. “The last game against Neenah we were a little tight. We talked at practice, ‘We’re fine, we’re fine.’”
Knowing four combined runs have been scored in the teams’ first two meetings, runs will be at a premium Thursday. But this is how it’s supposed to be with a trip to state on the line.
“One seed and two seed playing to go to state,” Weyers said. “I think it’s going to be great.”
What else would you expect when the Papermakers and Ghosts meet?
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay