By Daniel Mike
NEW BERLIN – Mallory Klotz and her teammates have not lacked motivation.
Each step of the WIAA Division 2 state softball playoffs, the New Berlin West High School softball team has found itself pumped up.
“Each game was a challenge to us,” said Klotz, a junior shortstop. “Each game has tested us, but we’ve been through it and can take anything that’s thrown at us.”
The Vikings persevered, exacted some revenge and tackled old and new challenges to advance to the state tournament, where they will play Baldwin-Woodville in a Division 2 semifinal at approximately 8 p.m. Thursday at Goodman Diamond in Madison.
Baldwin-Woodville (20-3) is the defending Division 2 state champion.
“It definitely was one of our goals at the beginning of the year,” West co-coach Corey Scheel said of getting to state. “To be the first team in the history of our softball program to do so is special. It’s a great moment.”
The playoffs opened with a chance at revenge, as West beat a Whitnall team that bounced the Vikings from the 2012 playoffs in an early round upset. The next round brought Pius, which swept West in an early-season doubleheader. After dispatching the Popes, West had a matchup with intra-city rival New Berlin Eisenhower – which has long been a nemesis.
“It was amazing, because they always got us in the past,” senior first baseman Alison Kuhne said. “We finally got them when it counts, which was very rewarding.
“That helped us to play harder and treat every moment like it was our last.”
West beat its fourth straight Woodland Conference rival, Cudahy, in the sectional semifinal before topping an unfamiliar Waupun team 5-4 in the sectional final to get to state.
“It’s definitely a great feeling, something I feel many of us have never felt before,” senior pitcher Abby Kunz said. “Based on the seeds, we probably weren’t expected to get out of the regional. Playing our sixth postseason game this week (at state) is incredible.
“A lot of it has to do with the closeness of the team. We have the same common goal, and everybody is on board.”
Kunz is a key figure in West’s success. In 14 games (12 starts), Kunz holds a 2.58 earned run average with 93 strikeouts against 27 walks in posting a 10-2 record. She also has one save for the 19-3 Vikings.
“There are some quality pitchers in the state we’re aware of, but as far as being a competitor, I wouldn’t put anybody above Abby,” West co-coach Greg Klotz said. “She’s a fighter; intense. She’s probably a better pitcher with a runner on base. Once the pressure’s on, she finds a different level and gets us through.”
Mallory Klotz leads West with a .483 batting average, while junior outfielder Kailey Nealon is hitting .367, junior third baseman Hannah Buth .345, Kuhne .344 and Kunz .326.
“We really embrace the whole team aspect,” Mallory Klotz said. “We really are the definition of a team. A different person contributes every game. We all play roles and contribute. That’s what’s brought us here.”
The Vikings returned eight starters from last season’s team, which was beneficial this spring. While it was cold, rainy – sometimes snowy – many teams struggled to find a groove while getting teammates acclimated to each other. West had a roster full of players who have played together and had only one starting position to fill.
“It definitely helped,” Kunz said. “Most of our girls play in the summer and have access to indoor facilities during the winter. We’ve been in open gym since October, so we kind of picked up where we left off last year.”