West Salem putting together complete sets

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WEST SALEM — The West Salem High School softball team is playing their best at the right time, and that has resulted in their first WIAA Division 2 regional championship since 2019.

That, of course, isn’t a long time, but the Panthers have been putting together a special season that perhaps some people didn’t anticipate could materialize.

The players and coaches certainly believed in themselves, but coach Brian Babiash is in charge of a fairly young team with plans to rely on a rookie pitcher as it takes on the Coulee Conference.

One big aspect that was going to help Josie Brudos grow in that role was the anticipated offense that would surround her.

“The amazing part is, in 20 years, I’ve never had a lineup where all nine girls could hit the ball like this,” Babiash said after the Panthers beat Wisconsin Dells 7-2 in the regional final last night. Last week in West Salem. “To me, that’s the difference between this team and the teams we’ve had in the past.

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“We have nine girls who can put the ball in play.”

Babiash liked the way his players adapted to the Chiefs’ slower pitching style and still managed enough runs to win his 10th straight game and improve his record to 17-7.

West Salem is two wins away from a state tournament berth, and the next hurdle is here in the form of Mount Horeb (17-8). The Vikings ranked second in the Badger Conference West Division, winning eight of nine games and hosting the Panthers in the sectional semifinal on Tuesday.

West Salem hasn’t been scoring runs by the ton, but they’ve built success on getting timely or big hits from the entire lineup rather than having runners on base for individual hitters.

In their last four games, seven players have driven in multiple runs at least once.

Sophomore Megan Johnson drove in three and junior Sydney Laursen two and sophomore Makena Ihle two against Wisconsin Dells.

Brudos drove in four and junior Signe Roesler three in an 8-3 win over Logan in a regional semifinal, and sophomore Dylynn Bayer four, Roesler three and senior Alayna Tauscher two in a 9-6 regular season finale about Altoona.

“We’ve got hits up and down the lineup, and everyone feels confident,” Roesler said. “I always knew we could do this, and we have a great facility here where we can get constant changes.

“I’m very happy and proud that we’ve gotten to this point with our hitting.”

Laursen, who starts, is hitting a team-high .494 and leads the Panthers with 31 runs scored. Roesler, who is hitting third, is hitting .402 with two home runs and 21 RBIs.

The fact that West Salem is starting to build a team with good defense and increasingly better shooting from Brudos should make for a tough outing in the tournament.

Babiash said his team’s defense has been a driving force over the past 10 games, citing a time when a play required a bit of reaction on his part.

“I don’t normally raise my voice, and I’m not a coach who yells and yells,” Babiash said. “We had a bad pitch at the wrong time, a pitch that didn’t have to be thrown, and when I yelled from the bench, it resonated, and I think it really established where the minds of the kids needed to be. They really dug from there, and it’s been great.”

That word can also be applied to Brudos.

He had to make some adjustments both in the way he shoots and when it came to finding his role on the team. But she did the same thing as a contributor to a girls’ basketball team that qualified for the state tournament that winter. That made it a little easier this spring.

“There were a lot of sophomores through seniors here, and they’d all played (varsity) before,” said Brudos, who spent a lot of time outdoors working on replay with his pitches and pitch placement. “I just had to try to find my rhythm, but they always had my back.”

Brudos’ last eight starts have resulted in just 42 hits and 13 earned runs for opponents. He has completed all eight games with 86 strikeouts, 14 walks and a 1.63 ERA.

We will go where she takes us, there is no question about it,” Babiash said. “I was hoping she would be our stud going into the season, but I didn’t think we could get this out of her this season.

“Once we got out of the nervous part, he calmed down and was great. He knows what he does right and wrong, and we talk about it a lot.

Brudos also has eight doubles, three triples, four home runs and 23 RBIs while hitting .403 in the team’s cleanup spot.

“His confidence has really improved,” Roesler said. “She knows that she can own the game.”

The Vikings were given the No. 1 seed for a reason because they, too, have been playing better as the season has progressed. Mount Horeb began their season 2-4, then split two games with the Oregon team that won the Badger-West and beat Reedsburg, a team that beat them in the regular season, in the regional semifinals.

Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX