After the congratulatory hugs, after all the photos, and after getting the WIAA sectional championship plaque that symbolized what the Franklin softball team had accomplished with its 1-0 win over Kenosha Tremper Thursday afternoon, Sabers' pitcher Annie Versnik nudged outfielder Kayla Plath in the ribs, laughed and said what this first-ever trip to the state tournament really means:
"Real dugouts," she chuckled.
Then her and Plath both broke up laughing as they thought about Franklin's upcoming trip to the Goodman Stadium Diamond in Madison (with its real dugouts) on Thursday, June 14, when it will take on Sun Prairie in a 1:30 p.m. WIAA state quarterfinal game.
But it was no joke about the Sabers had accomplished, as one assistant coach said after they broke their post-game huddle. "You get your name on a banner, you're the first."
"This is amazing, an unreal and completely great feeling," said Versnik. "No one here had ever done it before."
First-year coach Dylan Keller was stunned too.
"The whole thing is pretty unbelievable," he said. "We really weren't expecting this going into the season. We just started playing well late in the season and got it done. How about that, my first year and we're at state?"
Indeed, as the Sabers will carry a 22-6 record into their game with Sun Prairie (21-3).
With the victory, Franklin won the rubber match on the season with their Southeast Conference rival Trojans (17-9). The Sabers extended their winning streak to nine games (15 out of the last 17) and ended Tremper's run at 10.
And they did it with pitching and defense.
Versnik, who has been a dominating force all season, allowed only two hits with six strikeouts and no walks. The Sabers had staked her to the only lead she would need in the first when Lauren Mather got on by a two-base error by the centerfielder, stole third and then scored when Ashley Lobraco poked a clutch, two-out, two-strike single into left
It was all that Versnik would need, but it would not be easy to hold, as in this game, the Franklin defense both gave the Trojans' opportunities and then took them away.
Especially the senior centerfielder Plath.
After a two-out double in the first by the Trojans' Courtney Reeves, Plath raced in and made nifty basket catch off of a bloop off the bat of Lauren Boresch.
But that play was eclipsed by what she did in the fourth, as after a single and an error put runners at first and second, Versnik got a big strikeout, but then Tremper's Bridget Nelson ripped a line drive single into centerfield.
It looked like the game was going to be tied for sure.
Except Plath had other ideas, scooping and throwing the ball on a line towards catcher Siera Spahiu, who tagged the sliding Tremper runner as she went by for the third out, preserving the Sabers' 1-0 lead.
"I was so jacked after that play," said Versnik. "I ran over and hugged both Kayla and Siera and coach was pretty jacked too (laughs)."
"That's what she (Plath) has been doing all season," said Keller. "She steps up and stops a run from scoring in the first inning with a great catch and then she makes a terrific throw to stop them from scoring again. You just can't ask for anything more than that."
As for Plath herself, she just said:
"That's what I do. We practice plays like that (the throw to the plate) all the time and I have a lot of confidence in Siera (Spahiu). She's a great catcher."
"Coach was really helpful in that regard. He said if you make a mistake just don't make it a big one and then get them the next time."
After that play, the inspired Versnik took things into her own hands setting down the last nine Trojan batters in a row, including two strikeouts in the seventh inning.
"What can you say about Annie?" said Keller. "She's just special. She knows she's getting the ball, she wants the ball and she wants to win."
And then the kids started thinking about the trip to Goodman again.
"I don't know what it'll be like, it'll probably be the best softball experience of my life," said Plath.
A feeling that comes with being the first to do it.
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