Sunny outlook for Knights

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Jim Franz/Beloit Daily News Beloit's regional champions include, front row (L-R): Jaelyn Ryan, Maggie Henthorn, Mandi Franks, Angelique Spencer, Ari Brown, Gracie Henthorn, Kaylin Dilly, Natalie Bosco. Second row, head coach Jen Pozzani, Kylie Evans, Natalie Bittner, Miranda Mechanic, Jacey Walker, Brynn Swanson, Madison Stavn, Assistant Coach Eric Brown.

BELOIT - Jen Pozzani of Beloit Memorial figured she'd seen enough tense moments in Thursday's WIAA Division 1 regional final.

Her advice to her team during a seventh-inning conference in the pitcher's circle was simple.

"All I said was defense calm down and let's get this last out," the head coach said.

Pitcher Jacey Walker did exactly that, coaxing a routine fly out to center fielder Natalie Bittner that allowed the Purple Knights to hang on for a 5-4 victory at Beloit College's diamond at the Strong Stadium Complex.

"It's tournament time and nobody wants to go home," Pozzani said. "Anything can happen. Everyone is working hard. You can't take anything for granted."

Fourth-seeded Beloit (17-6), which finished third in the Big Eight Conference, advances to play at top-seeded Elkhorn at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Elks blanked No. 8 Badger 1-0.

The Knights trailed Waterford 1-0 heading to the bottom of the fourth when they batted around and plated four runs. The inning featured seven singles by the hosts as they chased starter Ashley Baker, who was coming off an 8-3 win over Burlington on Tuesday.

With one out, Gracie Henthorn singled and then motored to third on a base hit by Miranda Mechanic. Kylie Evans tied the game with a single to center and Jaelyn Ryan loaded the bases with another base hit.

The Wolverines pulled Baker and went with Shauna Kiser, who ended the hit parade by getting Natalie Bittner to pop up, but Madison Stavn started it all over by hitting a hard shot off the pitcher for an RBI single.

That brought up Brynn Swanson, who had been fed a steady diet of off-speed pitches her first two at-bats. She picked one out this time and smacked a two-run single to center to make it 4-1.

"They got me out with them so I guess they decided to stick with (the changeups)," Swanson said. "I had to do something to get us going."

"We always say, 'Second time around,'" Pozzani said. "The second at-bat against a pitcher you try to make adjustments and drive the ball. The fourth inning seems to always be our inning."

The Knights also tacked on a run in the sixth. Ryan's swinging bunt dropped in for an infield hit and while she was erased on a fielder's choice by Bittner, Swanson delivered another clutch RBI base hit to give Beloit a 5-1 edge.

It turned out they needed all of it as Waterford collected a walk, two hits, a passed ball and an error to close within 5-4 on Jemma Fiehweg's two-out RBI single. That brought Pozzani in for her brief pep talk and moments later Bittner squeezed a flyout to give the Knights their regional crown.

"I think we tightened up a little bit in that last inning, but they recovered and these girls deserve everything they got," Pozzani said. "Jacey is our pitcher and she got through a tough spot there. Now we're going to keep rolling."

"Going into this game we were a little nervous," Swanson said. "They beat Burlington and they were supposed to be really good. It was a good game, I think. It was scary when it was 1-0, but we were ready. We wanted this one."

• NOTES: Waterford finished its season 12-12. ...The Knights banged out 12 hits. The bottom three batters in the order - Mechanic, Evans and Ryan - were each 2-for-3. Stavn and Swanson also had two hits apiece. ...Walker scattered seven hits and two walks despite striking out only one.

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