The Stratford softball team is deep, talented, and committed to winning
By Paul Lecker
STRATFORD — The Stratford softball team is hitting the final two weeks of the regular season on a roll.
Although coach Mandy Pankratz said the Tigers have not played the best during the past week, their 14-3 overall record and 8-1 mark in the Marawood Conference South Division has them in position to grab one of the top seeds in the WIAA Division 3 playoffs, which begin May 26, and in contention for a conference title.
Stratford has been fueled all season by the pitching duo of junior Lorrie Luepke and freshman Kiana Weiler, who serve up different styles but have equally spectacular seasons going.
Luepke, also one of the Tigers’ top hitters, had not pitched much in the past seasons, serving as the team’s designated hitter while Liz Krum was on the hill.
This season Luepke has joined Weiler as a one-two punch on the mound for Stratford.
“Lorrie worked really hard last summer to improve,” Pankratz said. “She pitches to contact and moves it around in the zone. She has learned to trust her change-up.
“Kiana is becoming more a strikeout pitcher and does a great job of locating her fastball.”
Leadoff hitter Sammy Griesbach, Dallas Adams, Brittany Bredemann, Luepke, and Casey Kolbeck in the middle, and Kaylee Geiger, Valieda Crillo, and Macie Frueh near the bottom of the order have produced timely hits and tremendous run support all season for the Tigers.
Through games on May 2, Bredemann and Geiger were each hitting .529 in conference play, with Bredemann and Luepke each with nine RBIs and Geiger with eight. Bredemann hit four doubles and four triples in the Tigers’ last 12 games.
“The girls take hitting very seriously,” Pankratz said. “We try to take 150 swings every practice, with half of them probably coming off a tee. During those drills you could hear a pin drop. We work hard on the fundamentals and want to make contact. If we hit the ball and make an out, we want it to be a loud out with a hard-hit ball.”
Pankratz praised the Tigers for their work ethic and unselfishness, two things that have made this year’s squad a success, she said.
“Whoever is in the lineup, they do whatever it takes, whether it is to put down a bunt, hit away, or hit behind a runner,” Pankratz said. “They take the game very seriously, and it shows. Our pitchers pitch to contact, and we have a really good defense to back them up. We have had a lot of situations this season where we were able to get big outs to get us out of innings.”
Stratford just played four games in six days without a practice. Pankratz said that has kept the Tigers from playing their best ball during that stretch as they went 3-1 and suffered their first conference loss against Marathon on April 30.
Able to practice twice earlier this week before playing three games at the Gilman Tournament on Saturday and a conference matchup at Wisconsin Rapids Assumption on Monday, the Tigers are hoping to shore up some things as they prepare for the postseason.
“We need to settle ourselves down and get back to the fundamentals,” Pankratz said. “We’re going to work hard in practices to get back to what we need to do and were doing earlier this season.”
Paul Lecker is publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com, a contributor to Hub City Times Sports. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.