The biggest hurdle for the Verona softball team in reaching the WIAA Division 1 state tournament the past several seasons has been Big Eight Conference rival Sun Prairie.

The latest chapter in the postseason rivalry came when Sun Prairie pulled off a thrilling 3-2 eight-inning win over Verona in a WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal on Monday, June 21. The Cardinals have beaten the Wildcats in the sectional the last three years there has been a season, including a 10-3 win in a sectional final in 2019. There was no spring sports season last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think in previous years we might have got overconfident thinking it was going to be easy and we got too cocky,” said Verona senior pitcher Alyssa Bostley, who has committed to Creighton University. “I don’t think that was the case this year. Sun Prairie is an amazing team, and they make you work for it. I think we made them work for it too.”

Both the Wildcats and Cardinals earned a conference co-championship. Verona (23-4), ranked No. 7 in the Division 1 Wisconsin Softball Coaches Association state poll, beat Sun Prairie twice during the regular season just like the Wildcats did two years ago, only to see the Cardinals turn the tables to win the sectional showdown.

“I told the girls after the game that this was an epic game,” Verona coach Todd Anderson said. “This is how it should be in the sectional semis. It shouldn’t be 12-3 or 8-1. I’m really proud of these girls. They left it all on the field. People definitely got their money’s worth.”

To reach the sectional, the Wildcats bashed three home runs en route to a 13-3 victory over Middleton in six innings in a regional championship on Wednesday, June 16, in Verona.

Sun Prairie 3, Verona 2 (8 inn.)

Verona sophomore pitcher Hilary Blomberg came inches away from a grounder turning into an out and getting out of a bases-loaded, no out jam in the eighth inning against Sun Prairie.

Instead, Sun Prairie freshman Tayler Baker bounced an RBI single up the middle to give the Cardinals a thrilling win over the Wildcats June 21 in a Division 1 sectional semifinal.

Sun Prairie junior Carly Goss started the eighth with a lead-off single. Then junior Chloe Knoernschild slapped a bunt between Verona senior third baseman Sydney Toman and sophomore shortstop Addison Blomberg. The Wildcats then intentionally walked Sun Prairie senior Ellie Rademacher to load the bases with no outs.

It looked like Anderson’s move to walk Rademacher would pay off when Toman caught a line drive hit by Grace Radlund and turned it into a double play by tagging Goss at third base. That set the stage for Baker, whose grounder found a hole and knocked in the winning run in a walk-off victory.

“The two games we beat them were earlier in the season, and I knew both of our teams had improved,” said Bostley, who started and pitched five innings and gave up two runs on five hits and struck out one. “They didn’t do anything extraordinary. I wouldn’t say it was anything we couldn’t beat. The difference was they hit the gaps and that was a positive for them.”

Verona entered the game with one of the deepest core of hitters in the sectional, averaging 7.9 runs per game with Hilary Blomberg leading the state in home runs with 16.

But Baker kept the Wildcats’ powerful bats at bay. The top four hitters in Verona’s lineup went a combined 2-for-16. One hit by the top of the order came on Bostley’s double to right in the sixth. It looked like the Wildcats would score in the sixth when Toman roped a liner to center, however Sun Prairie’s centerfielder made a sliding catch to end the threat.

Verona junior Jana Lawrence went 2-for-3. With the Wildcats trailing by one run in the top of the seventh, Lawrence bounced a single to left. Verona freshman Harriet Salas with two outs lined a game-tying RBI single to center to tie the game at 2 to force extra innings.

“It felt really good to get that hit,” Salas said. “I had two strikes on me, and I knew I needed to get a hit. I had to wait later (to swing).”

Blomberg beat out an infield single in the top of the eighth. Sun Prairie sophomore Isabel Royle then got Bostley, who was bunting, to pop out to the catcher. She then got both senior Katie Pederson and Toman to fly out to center.

“Some people would say we took the bat out of the hands of one of our best hitters,” Anderson said of having Bostley bunt. “At that moment, she wasn’t hitting up to her ability and we needed a run.”

Verona had a golden scoring opportunity in the fifth. Addison Blomberg hit a fly ball to right field. Junior Odalys Rivera tagged up and raced to the plate. She was thrown out at the plate by Sun Prairie fielder Royle to keep the Cardinals in the lead 2-1.

“Odalys is one of our best runners on third base,” Anderson said. “We knew she (Royle) had a good arm, but we took a gamble. It was a calculated risk.”

Verona 13, Middleton 3 (6 inn.)

Toman went 3-for-3 with a home run and four RBI to power the Wildcats past the Cardinals in six innings in a regional final on June 17.

Verona scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning. Hilary Blomberg led off with a walk. Pederson reached on a dropped fly ball in right field and Blomberg scored. Toman then bunted for a single on a squeeze to score Pederson. Sophomore Ellie Osting then delivered a two-out RBI single to left to extend the Wildcats’ lead to 3-0.

The Cardinals scored two unearned runs on a dropped fly ball in left field in the third inning to cut Verona’s lead to 3-2.

“I think we all had a lot of nerves in the beginning and once the game started and we started hitting the ball they kind of faded away and we all got relaxed,” Toman said.

The Wildcats answered with a four-run fourth. Salas walked and Addison Blomberg laid down a sacrifice bunt. Her twin sister Hilary followed by crushing a two-run home run to left to give Verona a 5-2 lead. Pederson then ripped a single to center. Toman then hit a two-run home run to left to extend the Wildcats’ lead to 7-2.

“I knew once it hit the bat it was gone,” Toman said. “It helped bring the team up getting all of those runs.”

Bostley then crushed a grand slam to left in the fifth to give the Wildcats an 11-3 lead. Toman had an RBI double to right center. The WIldcats scored one run in the sixth when Salas reached on an error to win by the 10-run rule.

The Cardinals intentionally walked Hilary Blomberg to get to Bostley.

Bostley said she wasn’t surprised the Cardinals walked Blomberg.

“I just thought now it’s my turn to step up and make them regret that and I did,” Bostley said.

Bostley said hitting wins games and even after the Cardinals scored two unearned runs, she was confident the Wildcats could bounce back.

“It felt awesome to hit that grand slam,” Bostley said. “That is an understatement. I struggled in my first three at-bats. To be selfless and help my team out is the best feeling. To get those extra insurance runs was awesome.”

Verona pounded out 14 hits. Addison Blomberg went 2-for-2. Pederson finished 3-for-4 with a triple. Rivera and Osting each went 2-for-4.

Bostley pitched 31⁄3 innings and gave up two unearned runs on three hits to earn the win. She struck out two and walked two. Hilary Blomberg pitched 22⁄3 innings in relief and gave up one earned run on two hits and struck out four.

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