PADDOCK LAKE – There are no secrets when Wilmot and Central meet on the softball diamond.
The Southern Lakes Conference rivals play twice during the regular season and have met seven of the last eight years in the WIAA Division-1 playoffs.
“We also have a lot of players who are on the same summer team too, so we knew each other well,” Wilmot senior pitcher Madi Zerr said.
“At this point, it is matter of who executes better when we play.”
Zerr and her teammates hit, pitched and played a better defensive game Thursday when the visiting and sixth-seeded Panthers upended the third-seeded Falcons, 8-3, in a Division-1 regional final at Sorensen Fields in Paddock Lake.
Wilmot (16-9) will host seventh-seeded Oregon — which upset second-seeded Milton, 3-2, on Thursday — in Tuesday’s sectional semifinals. Central saw its season end with a 17-11 record.
“(Central’s) hitters know how I pitch, so I wasn’t going to surprise them,” Zerr said. “I just had to hit my spots to try to get ahead and then try to jam them inside when I had two strikes.”
Zerr was successful with 11 strikeouts, with only three hits allowed, as she improved to 9-3 on the season.
“Madi just pitched an incredible game for us,” Wilmot coach Jenny Jacobson said. “She’s pitched really well in our two tournament games this week.
“Our defense also made some nice plays behind her.”
Wilmot took advantage of a defensive mistake by Central in the top of the opening inning when leadoff hitter Haley Lamberson reached on an error and eventually scored on a groundout by Zerr to take a 1-0 lead.
The Falcons responded in the bottom of the first to tie the game at 1-1 when Carlie Odejewski (bunt hit) crossed home plate on a infield groundout by Jillian Adams.
The contest stayed a pitcher’s duel between Zerr and Central’s Olivia Kuzumura (14-5) for the next four innings before the Panthers erupted for six runs in the top of the sixth for a commanding 8-1 lead.
After Ambriel Siggeman’s sacrifice fly plated Riley Alexander (double) in the fifth frame for a 2-1 lead, Wilmot sent 11 batters to the plate in the sixth by taking advantage of five hits, two walks and a hit batter.
Zerr had two singles in the rally, while Kenzi Ketterhagen (RBI single), Siggeman (RBI single) and Lamberson (two-run double) also had key hits.
“It seems that once one or two players start hitting for us, everyone starts hitting,” Jacobson said. “This was really a team effort.”
Central tried to climb back into the game with two runs in the bottom of the sixth helped by a two-single single by Molly Grabarec, but Zerr shut the door in the seventh by retiring the Falcons in order for the win.
Central had defeated Wilmot in five of their last seven postseason meetings, but the Falcons could not overcome the Panthers’ big six-run sixth inning.
“That’s been the story of our season,” Central co-coach Tom Lampe said. “If we avoid the big inning, we usually are OK.
“We split during the regular season, so we expected this game to be close, but Wilmot was the better team (on Thursday). That is the way it goes sometimes.”
Lampe said he was proud of his team’s 17-11 record and second-place finish in the Southern Lakes Conference, but, as always, the Falcons had their goals set higher.
“This was an anomaly of a season for us, so we have to get back to work and hope for a better outcome next year,” he said.
Wilmot is hoping for a repeat of 2017, when the Panthers raced to the Division-1 state championship game before falling to Kaukauna.
“We think we can go all the way if we keep getting everyone coming together at the right time,” Zerr said. “We think we can play with anyone right now.”