Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) senior shortstop Nicki Hauser connects with a pitch for an RBI single in the first inning of the top-ranked Panthers’ 8-0 win over Wausau East at Zenoff Park Tuesday, April 23.
The Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) softball team has continued to roll this season.
With seven starters back from last year’s team that reached the WIAA Division 1 State Tournament for the 10th time in the last 13 years, the Panthers are off to a 10-0 start this season and are the No. 1-ranked team in the state.
In the hunt for its 14th consecutive Wisconsin Valley Conference (WVC) Title, SPASH improved to 3-0 in conference play this season, as it beat Wausau East (0-1, 0-1) 8-0 at Zenoff Park Tuesday, April 23.
“Last weekend we got an opportunity to kind of see where we’re at, playing (then-top-ranked and defending Division 1 State Champion) Chippewa Falls, and we were able to knock them off,” said SPASH softball head coach Tom Drohner. “I’ve been really proud of the kids.
“We’ve really hit the ball very well, and we were able to win some games against some really good teams,” said Drohner. “So when that happens, you win a couple of close games here and there and you start piling up wins, you start getting more confidence.”
Coming off its third State Title in four seasons, the Panthers advanced to state again last year, but fell to Germantown 3-2 in the State Quarterfinals to finish 22-6 overall.
SPASH lost a pair of Second Team All-WVC selections in catcher Parris Kurszewski and outfielder Shelby Fields and Honorable Mention All-WVC third baseman Melanie Leopold from last year, but brought back seven starters, including five that were named to the Wisconsin Fastpitch Coaches Association (WFCA) All-State Team.
“We’re a really confident group and we’ve got a lot of talent,” said Drohner. “We’ve got a lot of young talent, plus we’ve got an outstanding senior group that’s leading us.
“So I really like this team, and hope that we can continue to get better,” said Drohner.
Returning at the top of the lineup for the Panthers is All-WVC First Team and WFCA Second Team All-State senior center fielder Carly Lass, senior right fielder Leah Soik and senior shortstop Nicki Hauser, who was a unanimous All-WVC First Team and WFCA First Team All-State selection last season.
“Carly is our table-setter at the top of our lineup, just a really fast young lady that can go get it in the outfield,” said Drohner. “Leah’s capable of doing a lot of good things offensively for us, and she’s fast.
“And then you’ve got Nicki, who just absolutely destroys the ball on a regular basis and plays a solid shortstop for us,” said Drohner.
Senior Taylor Smola, who was an All-WVC First Team and WFCA First Team All-State selection last season after she set the single-season school record with 47 RBI and tied for the single-season record with eight home runs, has served as the Panthers’ designated hitter so far this season, after she tore the ACL in her left knee during the last game of the basketball season.
“She basically just rehabbed it, it’s not surgically repaired, but it has to get repaired,” said Drohner of her knee. “So we’re kind of being careful with her, she’s such a great hitter we have to have in our lineup. She’s our Albert Pujols.
“But she’s really strengthened her knee to the point where I feel pretty comfortable, and maybe even down the road playing a little first base,” said Drohner.
Senior Heather Woyak, who was an unanimous All-WVC First Team and a WFCA First Team All-State selection after she tied Smola for the school record with eight home runs last season, has moved from right field to first base this spring, while junior second baseman Megan Roth and senior pitcher Angela Lange also return as starters.
“Heather’s the reigning Wisconsin Valley Conference Player of the Year and a big RBI person for us,” said Drohner. “Megan’s really come on; she’s hit the ball real well and is an outstanding second baseman.
“And Angela’s our No. 1 pitcher, and also a very fine hitter,” said Drohner.
Junior third baseman Brianna Flugaur and freshman catcher Jordan Kawleski have also moved into the starting lineup for the Panthers, while All-WVC Second Team junior left fielder Katelyn Shuda also sees regular action.
“Brianna is probably the fastest kid on our team, and Jordan is probably one of the best catcher prospects we’ve had come through our program,” said Drohner. “Katelyn is very fast, runs the bases pretty well, and was a big contributor last year.”
Meanwhile, senior outfielder Abby Rottier, junior outfielder Janelle Nelson, freshman infielder/pitcher Shaylee Kluck, sophomore infielder Gabby Strojny, junior first baseman Makenzie Eckrote, junior catcher/first baseman Kelly Michalski and junior outfielders Kylie Hodgson and Taylor Gregorich are also in the mix for playing time.
In the circle, Lange is back in her second season as the starter for the Panthers, after she was a unanimous All-WVC First Team and a WFCA Second Team All-State pitcher as a junior.
“She has great experience from last year, and had a very solid year,” said Drohner. “She’s confident, and we play really well behind her.”
Despite the poor weather early in the season, SPASH already has 10 games under its belt, including a handful of scheduled home games that were moved to Portage.
Last Saturday, April 20, the Panthers beat then-top-ranked and defending State Champion Chippewa Falls 7-4, and then took out 17th-ranked Kenosha Bradford 13-3 in Portage.
Following a 9-2 win at ninth-ranked Kaukauna on Monday, April 22, SPASH played in Stevens Point for the first time this season, as it hosted Wausau East at Zenoff Park on Tuesday with temperatures in the 30s.
Hauser had RBI singles in the first and third innings to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead, while Shuda scored on a wild pitch and Woyak and Roth each had an RBI single later in the third to increase the advantage to 5-0.
Smola added an RBI single in the fourth and Strojny followed with an RBI single in the fifth to make it 7-0, while Kawleski scored on an RBI groundout from Nelson in the sixth to cap the scoring on an 8-0 victory for SPASH.
Hauser went 3-for-3 with two RBI, Soik was 2-for-3 with a triple and Lass scored three runs, while Lange struck out eight and walked one, as she combined with Kluck on a two-hit shutout.
“We did what we needed to do,” said Drohner. “I told the girls after the game that I thought we left some plays out there defensively, but I thought we did a pretty good job at the plate and got key hits when we needed.
“Nicki Hauser’s been crushing the ball real well, and really all the way through our lineup we’ve gotten great contributions,” said Drohner. “But I’m happy we were able to get a game in on a really cold day, and a win’s a win.”
The Panthers were set to host Marshfield on Thursday, April 25, and Wausau West Friday, April 26, at Woyak Park in Plover, where they’re scheduled to play all of their home games this season, although the field hasn’t been playable yet due to weather.
The Panthers will then host the SPASH Invite on Saturday, April 27, which will include Chippewa Falls, Kaukauna and Beaver Dam, and before they return to WVC play at Wisconsin Rapids Monday, April 29, as they continue their hunt for a 14th consecutive Conference Title this season.
“D.C. Everest is probably the other team that’s going to be very tough and we beat them 2-1 (April 16),” said Drohner of the WVC. “Rapids will be there, I’m sure Wausau West will, and I thought East did a pretty good job (Tuesday).”
And in addition to winning Conference, Regional and Sectional Titles this season, Drohner wants his team to work on getting better every day, as the Panthers have their sights set on winning an eighth State Title in the last 13 years.
“Ultimately I think our big goal is we want to win a State Championship this year,” said Drohner. “I think that we had the team to possibly get it done last year, and we fell a little bit short.
“When you’ve had that big prize and you’ve had it multiple times, that’s the ultimate goal,” said Drohner. “But we’ve got little goals that lead up to our biggest goal, and I know that our kids know that we’re capable of doing some really good things. We’ve just got to take them one game at a time and get to that point.”