Steve Krupke’s official return to the softball diamond at Brodhead High School will have to wait a year.
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out what would have been the head coach’s 13th season guiding the Cardinals.
Of course, there was a nine-year lapse between seasons 12 and 13. Krupke left Brodhead in 2011 and took over the boys basketball program at Evansville.
Now he’s excited about being back teaching and coaching at Brodhead.
Included in his second coaching stint is a refurbished diamond that will make its debut in 2021.
“(Athletic director) Brian Kammerer is doing a phenomenal job with our building and grounds,” Krupke said. “He’s trying to make the facilities at Brodhead second to none.
“I was grateful to learn the softball field was on his to-do list.”
Krupke said fans in particular will love the changes.
“The No. 1 reason for doing this is because fans didn’t have a good view of the game, because the dugouts were so tight to home plate,” Krupke said. “We’re moving the dugouts down and out. Since they were replacing the fencing, I requested that the outfield fences be moved in a bit. Let’s be honest, it’s more fun to see a home run now and then.”
No matter what talent level he develops, Krupke can’t help but compare future teams to his 2004 squad, which finished 23-4 and won the WIAA Division 3 state championship.
“The No. 1 thing about them was they had a personality that stood out,” he said. “They were all fierce competitors. I wouldn’t say that group hung together off the field, but when they got on it they had one goal and that was to win.”
Krupke took over the Brodhead program in 2000 and had coached many of the girls on the 2004 team since they were starting out.
“You mold them and all of a sudden they know how to play the game and they have a lot of confidence,” he said. “That team was all business.”
The Cardinals definitely had stars, starting with pitcher Ronessa Stampfli, who went on to become a workhorse at UW-Oshkosh and was one of the top pitchers in NCAA Division III. Shaun McCarville, Lindsey Smith, Megan Heepke, Ashley Graves and Amanda Nelson also received a bulk of the attention.
Just as important, though, were the role players, Krupke said.
“We had girls who could have started on other teams who accepted roles on this team because their main goal was to go as far as we could in the playoffs,” he said. “My right fielder, Catlin Baxter, had to play the toughest position on the field because the sun was always in her eyes. She didn’t bat. Ashley Stampli rarely played the field; she was our designated hitter. Amanda Nenneman was a sophomore and a great athlete, and she was content with serving as courtesy runner and late-inning defensive replacement.
“You can get a real talented team, but if the kids are worried about where they’re batting in the order and what position they play they’ll underachieve. Those 2004 Cardinals competed as a team.”
They always had an ace up their sleeve in Stampfli, a senior who got the win in both games at state. She pitched nine innings in a 1-0 shutout of Algoma and then pulled out a 2-1 win over Weyauwega-Fremont in the finals.
“Stampfli had a great demeanor,” Krupke said. “She’s not a kid I’d want to play in poker because she’s pretty stoic. Deep down, she was very competitive and I knew how to motivate her.”
In the title game at the University of Wisconsin’s Goodman Softball Complex, Brodhead led 2-0 before Weyauwega-Fremont pushed across a run in the fifth inning and had the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position with one out. Stampfli escaped the jam with a strikeout and a weak popup to shortstop Heepke.
“She had thrown nine innings the day before, and it was 80 degrees for the title game,” Krupke said. “I could tell her velocity was a tick down. She came into the dugout after the fifth inning and she was getting a lot of attention from her teammates, getting her towels and water. I could sense that she was starting to believe she was getting tired.
“I asked her if she was all right, and when she said it was hot I just said, ‘Kate (Earleywine, who became an all-state pitcher in her own right), get loose.’ I knew I wasn’t taking Ronessa out, but I wanted her to think I was.”
It had the result he was looking for. Stampfli didn’t allow another baserunner, retiring the last eight in order, six on strikeouts.
Stampfli finished the season with 242 strikeouts and just six walks. What people probably don’t remember about her, Krupke said, was that she was not a power pitcher.
“The hardest she threw at Brodhead was 56 (mph),” Krupke said. “In college, 58 was her hardest and she ended up seventh in D-III history in strikeouts. Ronessa had a true rise ball, which I don’t think many kids had back then. She could make that ball jump and she had pinpoint control.”
Stampfli, who matched Heepke with two hits in the final, was one of the few one-sport athletes on the 2004 Cardinals.
“Our catcher (McCarville), third baseman (Smith), shortstop (Heepke), second baseman (Graves) and first baseman (Jessica Kundert) were all three-sport athletes,” Krupke said. “Our right fielder (Baxter), center fielder (Nelson) and left fielder (Ashley Frie) were all two-sport athletes.
“Things have changed since 2004. Kids are all playing club travel ball. I’m not going to require them all to do that. By the time they get to be juniors and seniors, some get sick of it. I saw that as a basketball coach at Evansville. That’s why I like to keep them diverse.
“I just want competitors.”