Milton softball falls to top-ranked Bradford
Problem is, the Red Hawks played like the second-best team two innings too long, and it cost them a 5-1, season-ending loss.
Bradford went on defeat Westosha Central, 4-2, in the championship game and earn its first state berth. The Red Devils (23-1) play defending champion Stevens Point in the quarterfinals at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Goodman Diamond in Madison.
Westosha eliminated Verona, 3-2, in Thursday’s other sectional semifinal game, ending the Wildcats’ bid for a ninth straight state berth.
Bradford used a five-run second inning, capped by leadoff hitter Alyse Mikolas’ three-run homer, to get all of the runs it needed to end Milton’s season. Starting pitcher Ali Brems, meanwhile, struck out eight of the first nine batters en route to a 15-strikeout effort that propelled the Red Devils into the sectional championship game.
“We didn’t mind going in as the underdog,” Bilhorn said as her Red Hawks packed their ball bags and headed for the bus for the final time this season. “The girls gave it their best shot. But we played a lot better after the first couple of innings. We just didn’t get the big hit.
“Our defense played fabulous the second half of the game, and our offense got runners on base.”
The Red Hawks out-hit and outplayed Bradford from the third inning on—collecting six hits in their final four at-bats—but could push across only one run.
That run came in the fourth after leadoff hitter Taylor Jones legged out an infield hit, then stole second base on a third strike to Whitney Sockness.
With two outs, the left-handed-hitting Jessi Duoss drove the ball into the right-center gap for a run-scoring double. Duoss was left at second on an inning-ending strikeout.
Duoss, Milton’s sophomore ace, then pitched a 1-2-3 three bottom of the fourth despite giving up a bunt single by Celena Perez that was negated when Mikolas lined into a double play.
The Red Hawks then saw a major opportunity fall away in the fifth when Brems, as she seemed to do all game, came up with another big strikeout to keep the Red Hawks off the board.
After Taylor Davis reached on an error, Claire Cottam had a one-out bloop hit. Davis and Cottam advanced on a ground out by Chandler Richards to put runners on second and third with Jones at the plate. Jones drew a walk to load the bases, but Brems, a sophomore, struck out Sockness to end the threat.
Duoss, who allowed six hits but didn’t have a strikeout, had a four-pitch inning in the fifth when she induced three Bradford hitters to pop out.
The Red Hawks again put two runners on base in the sixth when Morgan Janes beat out an infield chop for a hit and Davis walked with two outs. But Shannon Wilson’s drive to left was caught for the third out.
The Red Hawks were the victims of a heads-up Bradford defense in a last-ditch seventh. Cottam led off with a double to the gap in left-center. But when Richards had a bloop hit fall off the glove of Bradford shortstop Ari Roberts in short left field, Cottam attempted to take third and was thrown out on bullet toss by Roberts.
Two strikeouts later, the Red Hawks season came to an end with a solid 17-6 record
But it was the Red Hawks’ seemingly early-game jitters that cost them a big second inning.
“We made some mistakes that we hadn’t been making and, it cost us,” Bilhorn said. “We had some miscommunications and didn’t make a play.”
On back-to-back batters in the second, Milton failed to make plays on balls hit on the infield, including a bunt. Then, with two runs in and two on, Mikolas, a junior catcher, drove a Duoss pitch over the left-field fence for a three-run homer.
The way Brems had been mowing down the Red Hawks, the Mikolas drive had the feel of a game-winner.
“We’d been practicing against a little more speed to get ready for her, but I still think she caught us a little off guard,” Bilhorn said. “But we adjusted and put some runners on later in the game. It was just too much to overcome.”
BRADFORD 5, MILTON 1
Milton 000 100 0—1 6 2
Bradford 050 000 x—5 6 2
Duoss and Richards; Brems and Mikolas.
Leading hitter—Swager (KB) 2x2. 2B—Duoss (M), Ciottam (M). HR—Mikolas (KB).
SO—Brems (KB) 15. BB—Duoss (M) 1, Brems 2.