By Brian Kalish
Photos by Michelle Miklesh
April 29, 2017
Plover– The SPASH Panthers may have been knocked off their perch as the #1-ranked team in Division 1 according to the latest Wissports.net coaches poll, but the Panthers proved that they are still a force to be reckoned with as they upended Chippewa Falls and Bay Port, respectively, in two key victories on Saturday in their home invitational.
Both games were live streamed right here on CentralWisconsinSports.net.
The importance of the Panthers’ performance is difficult to overstate.
SPASH owned a 8-1 record heading into play on Saturday, and while most casual fans will see little significance in the wins beyond two more ticks in the W column, there are wins, and then there are big wins.
Make no mistake, Saturday’s victories were the latter.
“When you have two big wins like that, it makes you feel pretty comfortable where you’re at,” said SPASH coach Tom Drohner.
Things were anything but comfortable for SPASH in their first game against Chippewa Falls.
The Panthers yielded a home run to Autumn Olson in the first inning, and it became immediately apparent that SPASH was going to have to get their bats going in order to keep up with a dangerous Cardinals’ line up.
Olson keyed Chippewa Falls’ attack, going 4-4 with a home run, two doubles and two RBI.
Teammate Kailey Dresel was also 4-4 with a home run and the Cardinals had a 4-3 lead going to the sixth inning.
That’s when Aubrey Drohner made one of the signature plays of her storied career.
SPASH loaded the bases as Megan Nolan led off the sixth with a single, followed by a swinging bunt by speedster Ally Miklesh and a walk from Brittney Flugaur.
Drohner stepped to the plate and rocked a fast ball from Mallory Sterling high in the air to center. While Drohner will tell you that she got under it a little and the wind helped to carry it out, it was an impressive display of raw power and, perhaps more importantly, a momentum-shifting shot when her team needed it the most.
“You know, I say it all the time, big time players make big time plays in big time situations, and that’s exactly what she did,” said Tom Drohner. “She generates a lot of power when she swings through it. She was strong enough to carry it out of here and, down one run in the sixth, that’s not a comfortable spot to be in, but it gave us a little bit of separation.”
Aubrey Drohner, frustrated by fly-outs and an intentional walk in her first three at bats, knew she was going to get some good pitches to swing at.
“I was a little frustrated at the beginning of the game,” Aubrey Drohner said. “I knew I was better than just popping up a couple of times. But it’s always forget about the last at bat. I kind of had a clear head of what my goal was and if I wasn’t going to hit a line shot in the gap, I wanted to hit it out.”
Drohner’s home run clearly took the wind out of the Cardinals’ sails and, despite getting two singles in their half of the seventh, Falls was unable to rally.
“Chippewa Falls can hit,” Tom Drohner said. “(Falls’ coach) Jared Faherty does a great job with those girls. It’s probably our biggest rivalry. It’s a rivalry of respect. It’s one team we play on a regular basis that we’ve gone back and forth with. Anytime you get a win against them, it’s awesome for our program.”
While the Panthers’ offense took center stage in the first game, it was pitching that proved to be the difference in their championship tilt against #7 ranked Bay Port.
Andrea Cherney (who, by the way, homered in the Falls game), took the circle and kept the Pirates off balance for the entire game.
Cherney went the distance, striking out three and allowing just four hits.
Bay Port’s Sydney LaPoint was nearly as effective. LaPoint struck out 11 Panthers and things were tight as SPASH took a 1-0 lead into the fifth inning.
SPASH’s Miklesh finally solved LaPoint, knocking a triple to center field that ignited the Panthers’ offense.
Miklesh was driven in by Flugaur, who was 2-4 in the game, and two batters later Halle Pavelski added an RBI to give SPASH a 3-0 cushion.
“When you face good pitching, you’re not going to get big innings,” Drohner said. “You’ve got to capitalize on opportunities. When Ally got that hit, that really kind of propelled us.”
Aubrey Drohner put the icing on the cake for the Panthers, hitting her second home run of the day to left center field in the seventh inning.
“I was just looking to drive the ball,” Drohner said. “She was throwing a low rise and a high rise, so I had to adjust. It took me a couple of times to kind of figure her out, but the big thing was you needed to get ahead in the count. I adjusted later in the game, but at least I adjusted.”
Tom Drohner commended Cherney’s work in the circle.
“To throw a shut out against a top ten team, it’s a tribute to what kind of pitcher she’s becoming,” Drohner said. “She keeps getting better. As she keeps developing her change up, the better of a pitcher she’s going to become.”