The Catholic Memorial softball team won the WIAA Division 2 state championship game on June 30 in Green Bay. The Crusaders defeated previously unbeaten Baldwin-Woodville, 5-4, in the final. (Photo courtesy of the Waukesha Freeman)
The Catholic Memorial softball team flew under the radar all season – until it couldn’t any longer.
The Crusaders (21-9) didn’t fit the typical profile for a state championship team (finished fifth in their conference, lost nine games during the regular season and had just 13 players in their entire program), but the profile can never really measure how much a team believes in itself, or how battle-tested it is.
Catholic Memorial defeated unbeaten Jefferson 4-3 in the semifinals on June 30 in Green Bay, and, later that day, the Crusaders held on for a 5-4 victory over undefeated Baldwin-Woodville to cap the school’s first WIAA state softball title and the first softball title since winning the WISSA crown in 1983.
Winning the state championship is the final line of the vision board the team had in its dugout all season.
“I don’t how achievable it was, to be honest with you,” said CMH Coach Brian Johnson, who completed his 11th season at the school. “We were nowhere near a conference championship. The point always with the team was always, ‘Hey, we’re pretty good.’ You may not realize it yet, but we see the potential.”
Johnson thought his squad had the chops to pull off a title run in 2020 before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the season.
Abby Smith, the senior pitcher on this year’s championship team, was coming back from a sophomore season where she lost just two games.
However, it was not meant to be.
For big chunks of this season, it also didn’t look like it was meant to be. A 19-14 season-opening loss set the Crusaders on their way to a 2-6 start.
Of the 13 players on the team, three were sophomores and two were freshmen, meaning they had never played a high school game until this season.
Catholic Memorial got hot toward the end of the year, winning their final five regular-season games, a winning streak that reached 11 games by the time their playoff run had ended.
“The best teams don’t necessarily win state,” Johnson said. “It’s usually the teams that play the best together. I had to remind them constantly what the purpose and vision was, and constantly be positive.”
The Crusaders rolled through their four games in regional and sectional play by a combined margin of 31-5, knocking off three top-10 teams in the process, but were still seeded fourth of four teams at the state tournament.
The run through regionals and sectionals was when the team started believing in Johnson’s vision.
Catcher Cassie Smith (Abby’s sister) had three hits and two RBIs in the semifinals. In the bottom of the seventh, Abby Smith recorded her sixth strikeout of the game to escape a bases-loaded situation.
In the championship game, Abby Smith delivered a two-run single in the top of the seventh inning to give the Crusaders the lead, but they couldn’t cash in any further with the bases loaded. Like she did in the semifinals, Abby Smith ended the game with a strikeout after a spectacular catch in deep left by Felicity Smart and Cassie Smart picking a runner off first base.
In the end, it turned out 13 was the Crusaders’ lucky number.
“You have to have the right 13 kids,” Johnson said. “Everyone had a place. Everyone had a role.”
2021 State Champions
Head Coach – Brian Johnson
Assistant Coaches – Scott Rice, John Lewandowski, Rebecca Stimac
Abby Arend, Sr.
Taylor Cain, Fr.
Gabrielle Casey, Jr.
Clare Gundrum, Soph.
Hailey Hart, Jr.
Kate Holzman, Soph.
Ella Johnson, Fr.
Amelia Menheer, Soph.
Maria Serb, Sr.
Felicity Smart, Jr.
Abby Smith, Sr.
Cassie Smith, Jr.
Claire Wright, Jr.