Poynette junior Lucy Cuff got a chance to live out the dream of every athlete by coming through with a clutch play late in a big game.
Cuff stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th inning and delivered a run-scoring single to give the Poynette softball team a thrilling 3-2 walk-off victory over Dodgeville in a WIAA Division 3 sectional final in Brodhead on May 30.
“It was pretty cool,” Cuff said. “Every morning, my teammates and I have batting practice for moments like this. This is why you practice hard.”
The win put the defending state champion Lady Pumas back in the state tournament for the fourth time in the last five years.
Long-time Poynette coach Bob Tomlinson has had a lot of big wins in his coaching career and feels this was one of the best all-time.
“This is right up there with the top games,” Tomlinson said. “I can’t rank them in order, but this was a dynamite game for fastpitch fans to watch. There was strategy back and forth. I can’t say enough about their ball club and our girls.”
The Lady Pumas have won 52 straight games. They are 28-0 this season and have not lost since the 2018 season-opener.
Tomlinson doesn’t feel the streak has placed any pressure on his team.
“They don’t even know there is a streak,” Tomlinson said. “There is no pressure on me. I retired after 2012 and after I decided to come back, I said I was coming back to get more girls from Poynette championships. To do that, you have to work your tail off.”
The Pumas have earned the top seed at the Division 3 state tournament and will take on fourth-seeded Prescott (20-10) at noon on Friday at Goodman Diamond in Madison.
Campbellsport (16-7) and Southern Door (21-3) will play in the other semifinal game at 10 a.m. on Friday. The championship game is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday.
The sectional final turned into a marathon after Poynette was not able to hold on to a 2-0 lead.
The Pumas scored their first run in the bottom of the first inning. Brianna Kowald led off with a bunt single and eventually scored on a throwing error.
The Lady Pumas picked up another run in the bottom of the fifth. Lizzie Schwenn scored on a bases-loaded walk by Kowald.
Even with a 2-0 lead and pitcher Casey Fountain mowing through Dodgeville’s lineup, Tomlinson knew the game was far from over.
“I wasn’t feeling real confident,” Tomlinson said. “In a two-run game against a good team, all heck can break loose, like it did.”
Fountain was cruising along at the start of the game. She took a perfect game into the fifth inning, but Dodgeville’s Taylor Borne had a two-out single.
The Lady Pumas were on the verge of a victory when Dodgeville rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh inning. Both runs scored after Poynette misplayed an infield grounder.
Both teams had opportunities to score in extra innings, but the Lady Pumas finally broke through in the bottom of the 11th.
Schwenn led off the 11th with a walk and moved to second on a bunt by Mollie Blochwitz. Then with two outs, Cuff launched a rocket to deep center field to drive in Schwenn with the winning run.
“One of the things we focus on is grit and this game proved it,” Fountain said. “We keep fighting even when we get down.”
Fountain put up some impressive numbers in the pitcher’s circle. She struck out a career-high 19 batters and didn’t issue a walk.
“I’m so thankful for my defense,” Fountain said. “I could not have done it without them. I got tired but I knew that I had to keep it going for my team. I knew they were behind me, so I just kept throwing.”
Fountain limited Dodgeville to five hits.
“Casey pitched out of some big jams,” Tomlinson said. “She got strikeouts when we needed them.”
Poynette had seven different players record a hit in the win.
Lake Mills 0
The Lady Pumas earned a spot in the sectional final after blanking visiting Lake Mills 8-0 in the semifinal on May 28. It was their third win over their Capitol North rivals this season.
Poynette got going with a run on a single by Cuff in the bottom of the first inning.
The Pumas grabbed control with a three-run outburst in the bottom of third. Poynette’s lone senior Ashley Hellenbrand belted a two-run triple and scored on a throwing error on the same play.
The Lady Pumas got an RBI double from Cuff in the bottom of the fourth, while Schwenn, who had a double, scored on an error in the fifth to put Poynette up 6-0.
“You have to put the ball in play,” Tomlinson said. “Those were some hard-hit balls they had errors on. You have to take advantage of that stuff.”
Poynette tacked on two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth. Cuff plated the first run with a triple and scored on a single by Molly Anderson.
Cuff finished the game an impressive 4-for-4 at the plate.
“That kid has worked so hard and I’m so proud of her,” Tomlinson said. “She is a tough out.”
Anderson and Fountain both recorded two hits.
Fountain also had a big game in the pitcher’s circle. In the two-hit shutout, she struck out 15 and walked just one.
“She was very good, but she really was not on top of everything like she was all year,” Tomlinson said. “She was a bit under the weather.”