Rhinelander’s Ivy Packard slides around Antigo catcher Lizzy West’s tag to score the winning run in the first game of a Great Northern Conference softball doubleheader Tuesday, May 16 at Pioneer Park. Packard used a bunt single and a three-base error to give the Hodags a 3-2 victory. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
With the Rhinelander High School softball team's faint Great Northern Conference title hopes hanging in the balance, Ivy Packard laid down a bunt single Tuesday and never stopped running.
Packard scored the winning run following a three-base error as the Hodags took the first game of a doubleheader, 3-2, over Antigo at Pioneer Park. Rhinelander went on to win the nightcap 5-1 in a game that was called in five innings due to lightning.
The wins keep Rhinelander alive in the conference title race (12-8, 8-3 Great Northern). Antigo (18-5, 8-3) has dropped three games in a row but also has a shot at sharing the title if it can beat Mosinee Thursday and then Mosinee loses to Tomahawk Friday.
The Hodags relinquished another seventh-inning lead in Game 1 when Kendall Smith hit a game-tying two-run homer off reliever Molly Wagler, but Rhinelander got the last laugh as Packard laid down a perfect bunt along the third base line with nobody on and two out in the seventh. Laurissa Belott's rushed throw went wide of the bag and rolled along the fence into the right field corner. Packard never broke stride as she circled the bases for the game winner.
"Ivy did what she did and as soon as that ball got past the right fielder I saw Ivy heading to second I'm like, 'Come on, as fast as you can go.' I wasn't stopping her no matter what," Rhinelander coach D.J. DeMeyer said.
The Hodag senior centerfielder had a huge day in her final regular season home game at Pioneer Park. She had three hits in the first game, scored the opening run of the second game and was a part of four sensational plays for the Hodag defense. She threw out Alayna Weix trying to move from second to third on a fly out to deep center in Game 1 and, in Game 2, she mowed down Allison Kondzela at the plate, who was trying to score from second on a Smith single.
"I would say this is the best I've seen Ivy play two games back-to-back," DeMeyer said. "She had a career day. Defensively, she must have had eight or nine putouts and some really fantastic plays. Offensively, she's aggressive and it's working out for her."
Packard and Stephanie Kuester got the Hodags going with bunt singles in the bottom of the first in Game 1. Both came around to score. Packard beat a throw to the plate on a Lindsay Juedes bases loaded grounder to second and Kuester came around on an RBI grounder by Ella Mullikin.
That was all the scoring until the seventh when Kondzela drew a one-out walk off Wagler and Smith sent an 0-2 pitch over the fence in right center. Wagler allowed another hit before Stephanie Kuester came on to get the Hodags out of the jam.
Wagler relieved Ali Schickert who pitched five shutout innings, but struggled with command. She walked six batters and had only four strikeouts.
"I just had a hunch that Molly would be able to keep them off guard, and she did, except for one pitch," DeMeyer said. "Then we brought Steph in the close it out. Then Steph pitched fantastic the second game."
Despite watching several close leads slip away late, DeMeyer said the mood in the dugout entering the bottom of the seventh was upbeat.
"That's what I told them when they came in for the bottom of the seventh. I said, 'Girls, we need one run. We got this, let's get it going," he said.
The momentum carried into Game 2 as Packard walked, stole second and third, and scored on a Makayla Kuester single in the top of the first. The Hodags tacked on four insurance runs in the fourth thanks in part to some aggression on the basepaths. Makayla Kuester went from first to third on a Juedes sacrifice and scored on a single up the middle by Wagler. Sophia McGinnis added a two-run single and Mikayla Evenstad singled home on a hit-and-run. Rhinelander stole four bases in the fourth inning.
"I decided to open up the floodgates and it got us some hits. I think (Evenstad) hit one to short as (their shortstop) was going to cover third. Aggressiveness on that and it paid off," DeMeyer said.
Alayna Weix doubled home Belott in the bottom of the fifth as the skies darkened to the south and west. Rhinelander scored a run in the sixth and had a runner on first with nobody out when a bolt of lightning pulled the teams off the field. With reports of severe thunderstorms approaching the Rhinelander area, the game was called roughly 15 minutes later. According to Rule 4-2-2 of the NFHS softball rulebook, Rhinelander's run and at-bats in the top of the sixth did not count because of when the game was stopped.
"I feel sorry for Antigo because I don't ever want to win this way," DeMeyer said. "We won like this against Medford last year (in the WIAA playoffs) and I don't like winning that way. Antigo's a good team, we just happened to have their number today."
Rhinelander travels to Tomahawk Thursday needing to win to keep its conference title hopes alive.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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