Peyton Strong thought she got it all. She didn’t, but it was still enough.
The Oak Creek first baseman hit a bomb to center in the first inning against Menomonee Falls in the WIAA Division 1 softball state quarterfinal June 8 in Madison. She slowed her trot around first base, then had to speed up to ensure a double when she realized the ball was in play.
But two runs had scored, and the Knights were already in great shape. Ultimately, a four-run first was enough in a 6-1 victory that put the Knights into a rematch with Wilmot one day later.
That's where the journey would end, when Wilmot scored once in the seventh for a 2-1 win. Oak Creek's only two losses in 2017 came against the Panthers.
“I just looked back, and it was on the top of the fence, so I kept running,” Strong said. “We were really hyped. The dugout was super loud, which always gets us going, which is all part of it. It’s the experience of a lifetime, definitely. I never would have pictured us here, but I’m glad we are, and I’m ready to keep it going.”
Katie Mitchell and Sara Traxel both had RBI singles in the opening inning against Menomonee Falls ace Ciera Jones, and Oak Creek later added two runs in the fifth for breathing room. It was plenty for Knights pitcher Becca Oleniczak, who scattered three singles in seven innings, and Oak Creek’s near-perfect defense.
“Our whole infield has been playing together since we were in second grade, so we have a chemistry like no other,” said the shortstop Mitchell, who finished with two hits and two RBIs. “We know exactly what everyone’s going to do, what’s going where. Our communication is key in the field.”
The Knights (29-2) collected five of their eight hits in the opening frame, which set the table for the team’s 24th consecutive win. The only other loss came in an 8-1 setback against Wilmot on April 22.
Oak Creek only had three hits in the semifinal against Wilmot starter Sarah Hutchinson, though Oleniczak's home run to center was one of those. It spotted the Knights a 1-0 lead in the fourth, but Wilmot drew even with a two-out single in the fifth by Heidi Richards.
Riley Reginer doubled and scored on a wild pitch in the top of the seventh that gave Wilmot the lead, and it would have been worse had the Knights not retired the third out at the plate. But Strong's one-out single in the seventh went for naught.
Oak Creek, making its first state appearance since 2008, staved off a Menomonee Falls threat in the third inning. The only error of the game contributed to a situation where Falls had two runners on and one runner in, but a pair of liners to Strong at first base by No. 3 hitter Allie Paulson and cleanup hitter Emma Neale ended the inning without further incident.
“If we can put up a lot of runs early, our defense and Becca’s pitching … we keep the ball down and don’t give up a lot of runs,” said Oak Creek coach Jeff Trask. “That’s kind of our key.”