Oak Creek softball's main focus is the destination, but the Knights have enjoyed the journey to the state tournament's doorstep
OAK CREEK - When Luke Edwards’ character took over as the owner of the Minnesota Twins in the 1994 baseball flick “Little Big League”, he opened his introductory press conference with a quote from former Cleveland pitcher Bob Lemon.
“Baseball is for kids, adults only screw it up,” Edwards said, playing 12-year-old Billy Heywood, who inherited the team following his grandfather’s passing in the film.
The adults that coach the Oak Creek softball team don’t screw anything up for their bunch, but the kids sure do like to have fun; almost too much fun, according to head coach Jeff Trask.
“I think they mesh well. We’re not young anymore because we’re mostly juniors with a few seniors sprinkled in there,” Trask said after the Knights’ 3-0 sectional semifinal win over Union Grove on Tuesday night.
“We’ve been together for a couple of years now. We haven’t had a lot of roster turnover. We didn’t have the biggest senior class last year. I think we had four or five kids and most of our role players were back. That consistency plays into that, and they just like to have fun. We let it happen, maybe sometimes a little too much (laughs).”
The fun began how it usually does for Oak Creek — with a rendition of “The Worm” before first pitch from infielder Madisen Noll, who hit a rocket over the fence in dead center field to open the scoring for the Knights in the third inning, and outfielder Emma Schmidt, who logged two hits and made a nice diving catch in the seventh.
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“It’s me and Emma Schmidt’s pre-game ritual,” Noll said after going 2-for-4 in the victory. “We have to do it before every game.”
In the grand scheme of things, the fun really started on Memorial Day when the team had a get-together hosted by center fielder Sierra Kilbourn.
“(On Memorial Day), we had a Spikeball tournament, we had a bags tournament,” Knights ace Riley Grudzielanek said after she mowed down the Broncos, allowing just one hit and striking out 10 while also drawing the walk that allowed an insurance run to score in the bottom of the sixth to make it a three-run game.
“It was so much fun. It’s kinda what we do and who we are. We just have fun with it all.”
Grudzielanek praises the Knights’ loosey-goosey approach to having a tight-knit group of girls who enjoy having a good time but also know that when it’s time to get down to business.
“We blast music. We just got a new sound speaker actually, and we just dance,” Grudzielanek said. “We obviously focus when we need to, but we have a lot of fun with each other, so that helps.”
The enjoyment of playing with and for one another oozes from the Knights’ dugout and it shows in the results. They’ve lost just twice since April 21 and added their sixth straight Southeast Conference title to the trophy cabinet, extending their active conference winning streak to 35 games.
Behind the stellar pitching of Grudzielanek, who allowed just five baserunners on Tuesday, and the likes of Noll seemingly hitting every pitch she sees as of late, the Knights are on the doorstep of their first state tournament appearance since 2018.
“It’s been a really fun ride. We just have a blast together,” Noll said. “Obviously, we have groups of people from each grade level, but we all just go for it, buy in, and everybody can contribute equally. Even the people that are sitting over on the bench are contributing. They honestly bring the most energy of anybody.”
The Knights can see a trip to Madison on the horizon, but they know the job’s not finished.
“It feels great,” Grudzielanek said. “Obviously, we got a great opponent coming (Kenosha Indian Trail) and we know that, but we just gotta do what we gotta do. We’re not (at state) yet and we know that. We’re not satisfied, but one more game and hopefully we’ll get there.”
For Trask, he doesn’t want the fun stop. He just wants the focus to balance everything out heading into Thursday’s sectional title game against Indian Trail, which will be played at Bullen Middle School in Kenosha at 4:30 p.m. Oak Creek won both its meetings with Indian Trail this season, but it took eight innings to dispatch the Hawks in the last matchup May 10.
“I wanna be a little more focused (laughs),” Trask said, noting that his team was still chatting about a recent prank they attempted to pull on the baseball team the day prior.
“I wanna have practice (on Wednesday) and be more focused than the start of our game (on Tuesday). We know who we got. We know them well. We’re gonna have to play our best game because we had a tough go the last time we played (Indian Trail). We know what we’re up against. We know we need to hit the ball better, so that’ll clearly be our focus. We just need to be locked in for practice and I know our kids will. We need to be locked in on the bus on Thursday. We need to be locked in at the start of the game on Thursday and we’ll let things take care of themselves.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Oak Creek high school softball makes winning fun in WIAA tournament