That the Beloit Turner High softball team would return to Goodman Diamond in early June seemed inevitable. Any alternative was unthinkable for the team ranked No. 1 in the state all season.
The Trojans were going to roll through the playoffs and make a triumphant return to Madison for a shot at redemption in the state title game.
But, they didn’t.
And, now, they won’t.
Instead, a season filled with immense promise was cut short. Fifth-seeded Delavan-Darien pushed across a run in the top of the first and held on to stun the top-ranked Trojans, 1-0, on Friday in a WIAA Division 2 regional final in Beloit.
Turner’s (20-1) unblemished record was marred by a team that won six games during the regular season.
The Comets and pitcher Jaida Speth demonstrated that any team, no matter how talented, can fall. The Delavan-Darien senior, an IUPUI recruit, struck out eight and gave up a handful of hard-hit balls in seven innings to extend her high school softball career. She’s the only senior on the Comets’ varsity roster.
“I knew we were going to come out and win it today,” she said. “I had a feeling. We’ve always had the talent; we’ve always had the potential. We’ve just never put it together.”
The Comets (8-14) have erased a largely forgettable regular season with a pair of memorable wins in the playoffs. Delavan-Darien overcame Pewaukee 4-1 in 12 innings Wednesday to reach Friday’s regional final.
“I think that really prepared us for this,” Delavan-Darien coach Hank Johnson said. “We weren’t freaking out. The girls played more relaxed in this game because of the Pewaukee game.”
The Comets will face Badger South-champion Monroe in a sectional semifinal Tuesday at Monroe.
Sydney Anderson’s sacrifice fly to right with one out in the top of the first scored Jasmin Speth for the game’s only run.
“If I went into this game thinking we’d only give up one run, I would say we would win that game,” Turner coach Regan Peters said. “There’s nothing else really to say. We just didn’t hit well.”
Turner was poised to tie the game in the bottom of the third when Trinity Fry hit a liner to center with one out and runners on second and third. It should’ve been a game-tying sacrifice fly, but neither runner advanced after Jennifer Ruesch made the catch. Jaida Speth blew a rise ball past Olivia Mikkelson for the third out in the next at-bat.
The Trojans didn’t get another runner in scoring position.
“We made one baserunning error that cost us a run but we still weren’t going to score after that,” Peters said. “You get the one game where you don’t hit well and it comes at the worst time possible.”
After the first inning, Jaida Speth and Turner pitcher Kenzy Conkle traded scoreless frames. Conkle retired 16 straight hitters at one point and struck out three.
Jaida Speth struck out Conkle on three pitches, got Carsen Nitz on a grounder to short and got Gabby Gaziano on a towering pop-up to left to clinch the upset. Several players raced to hug Speth as she walked off the field.
“I knew that one swing could change the game,” Jaida Speth said. “After we got through the top of the lineup in the bottom of the sixth, I knew right away I could get out there and attack them.”
Turner senior Kailyn Packard could only watch from the dugout as her stellar prep career came to an abrupt end. Packard, a first-team all-state player as a junior, tore the meniscus in her right knee in early May and underwent surgery to repair the damage. She’s expected to make a full recovery and will play softball for the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
But rare is the team that can afford to lose one of the state’s best two-way players. Would Packard’s bat have made the difference Friday? It’s impossible to know.
Delavan-Darien has quickly proven that regular season results only matter so much. The Comets have pulled back-to-back upsets and find themselves two wins from their second state berth in three seasons.
“It was different in the beginning of the season when we were nervous when it got hit out there, but now we’re confident we can make the plays,” Anderson said.
“All season it’s been one play, one miscue, one error, one time where we just didn’t get that key hit,” Johnson said. “The last couple games, it’s started to come together.”
Few expected the Comets to make it this far. But after an unlikely win over the state’s top team, nothing is out of the question now.
Can Delavan-Darien take this run all the way to state?
DELAVAN-DARIEN 1, TURNER 0
Delavan-Darien 100 000 0—1 4 0
Beloit Turner 000 000 0—0 3 0
Jaida Speth; Conkle
SO—Speth 8, Conkle 3. BB—Speth 1.