Softball: Florence beats Niagara for regional title

Florence's Sidney Tomczak pitches against Niagara during a WIAA Division 5 regional final on Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Florence, Wis. (Adam Niemi/Iron Mountain Daily News)

FLORENCE, Wis. — Sidney Tomczak’s pitching was on point.

Tomczak struck out 15 batters and Niagara (11-12) made six errors in a 5-1 WIAA?Division 5 loss to Florence on Thursday. She had no walks and never even fell into a three-ball count on a hitter.

“She’s got it going,” Florence head coach Dan Robinson said. “We’re hitting pretty darn good. Our pitching is good. Our defense is good. Even when we were hitting the ball, we were hitting at them. They made a few mistakes on fly balls. We did get some hits though.”

Florence (16-5) visits Wausaukee on Tuesday for a rematch in the WIAA Division 5 sectional semifinals. The Rangers ended Florence’s season in the regional final last year by a 12-5 margin.

Niagara’s defense collapsed behind starting pitcher Noelle Champagne.

The Florence High School softball team poses with the WiAA Division 5 regional trophy after defeating Niagara 5-3 on Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Florence, Wis. (Adam Niemi/Iron Mountain Daily News)

“Too many mistakes on our part,” Niagara head coach Duane Blagec said. “Taking nothing away from Florence. The Tomczak girl pitched really well. We had two hits — not going to win too many ballgames with two hits. But I think we gave them five unearned. I don’t think they had an earned run. That’s not their fault — that’s our fault. We just didn’t play defense behind our pitcher.”

Champagne, who perplexed some Florence hitters with a fastball-changeup mix. She struck out four with no walks and induced a lot of contact that went to infielders.

But errors lengthened innings and the Bobcats capitalized.

Florence solidified the advantage by making no errors itself on defense.

“We had some strong pitching and a good defense,” Robinson said. “Niagara let us off the hook early. They had a lot of errors. I feel for them because I like that team. That’s the nature of the game. You take advantage of every opportunity you can.”

The Bobcats scored twice in the third and fourth innings to take the lead for good as Niagara floundered in defensive struggles.

The Badgers made two errors each in the first and third innings as Florence scored three runs. Niagara made an error in the fourth and fifth.

Tomczak’s lone blemish of the day was giving up a two-out solo home run to Isabella Wells that tied the game in the third.

Florence responded with two runs in the bottom half as Niagara’s defense made its third and fourth errors of the game.

“We had six errors on the day. We did some things that were uncharacteristic,” Blagec said. “Florence puts the pressure on you. They bunt a lot and make plays. We made way too many errors to be a championship team. We certainly didn’t hit the ball well enough. The Tomczak girl pitched a great game, but we didn’t help ourselves out either.”

Champagne had Niagara’s other hit, a two-out sixth inning single.

The theme for the Bobcats in the tournament is playing loose.

“That’s what we’re stressing to these girls: let’s just go and have fun. Whatever happens, just play your game and play it like you’re capable and we’re going to be fine,” Robinson said. “I think that’s relaxing them when they come up to the plate. Just a good situation to be in.”

Jenna Springer reached base three times, twice by errors with a single. Jordyn Springer had two singles.

Florence stranded six runners throughout the game, one of the few concerns from Thursday.

“We hit it at them a few times too and would’ve got some more runs,” Robinson said.

Blagec said Champagne’s emergence on the mound was a surprise.

“Noelle’s coming a long way. She struggles with her changeup now and then but she’s just a pure power pitcher,” Blagec said. “She brings it and she brings it and she brings it. She throws that changeup and gets you looking at that then she zaps the fastball at you. She’s probably the biggest surprise of my season because I didn’t expect her to be our No. 1 pitcher when the season started but she’s just come along really well. She’s a great kid and pitched her heart out. She’s rewarded for her hard work and I’m happy for her.”

Niagara 001 000 0 — 1 2 6

Florence 102 200 x — 5 8 0