Germantown softball pitcher Lauren Renard's first instinct Monday afternoon at Thiensville Village Park was to save herself.
Homestead's Taylor Levin had just hit a screaming linedrive right back at her with none out and a runner on first in the seventh inning while the Warhawks were nursing a 2-1 lead in their North Shore Conference championship showdown with the Highlanders.
Renard defensively stuck up her glove and snagged the ball cleanly.
And then she obeyed her second instinct when she carefully threw the ball back to first to easily double up Hannah Young. And two batters later, when Renard induced the Highlanders' Hannah Behnken to fly out to right to end the game, the Warhawks had their second consecutive outright league championship.
"My first thought was to protect my face," chuckled a happy Renard afterwards of the linedrive. "So I put my glove up. We knew this would be a tough game and we wanted the title outright, we didn't want to share it."
Homestead (12-2 in the North Shore and 16-3 overall) needed the win to pull into a tie for the title with the Warhawks, who finished the North Shore season unbeaten at 14-0 while improving to 18-4 overall.
Veteran Homestead coach Dave Keel saw Renard's play as indicative of how the whole afternoon went.
"She (Renard) just made a nice play," he said. "They (the Warhawks) were making nice plays all day while we didn't quite make enough of them."
"This is just very gratifying," said Warhawk co-coach Amy Barbiaux. "We know that Homestead is a great team and thet we would have to work hard to get this done. They were our target since the start of the season."
The victory is the second one-run decision for Germantown over Homestead this season, as the Warhawks downed the Highlanders, 5-4, on May 1.
The win had double the importance as it will help the Warhawks when the WIAA sectional seeding meeting is held Wednesday.
Germantown won't have to be too defensive about its credentials when the meeting is held, because its defense held up in a big way Monday afternoon.
Homestead had taken a 1-0 lead on an RBI double by Rachel Wiedenhoeft in the second. The booming blast to right-center scored Levin who had reached on a single. But after Behnken singled to put runners on the corners, Renard induced a soft liner to first to end the inning.
That became important an inning later as the Highlanders tried to expand their lead. Homestead had a runner on second with two when Maggi Lampen hit a sharp single to right.
Keel sent the runner home but Warhawk rightfielder Felicia Kons came up throwing and hit catcher Kelsey Smith with a perfect strike to home. The runner never had a chance, as Smith blocked the plate and tagged her for the third out of the inning.
"It's just her first year on varsity," said Barbiaux of Kons. "The throw was right on the money and Kelsey (Smith) was in the perfect spot (to block the plate)."
"Plain and simple, that was a very nice throw," said Keel.
The Warhawks would use that defensive gem to their advantage in the fourth. Addy Green was walked by Highlander pitcher Rachel Behnken with one out. After a single by Amanda Witzlib, a strikeout put Homestead within an out of getting out of trouble.
But that was not to be, as Kons hit a hard chopper on the infield. The rushed throw to first was in time for the out but was not held onto, as Green scored the tieing run.
Smith then gave the Warhawks the lead for good with a sharp linedrive RBI single to plate Witzlib.
"We just didn't make enough heads-up plays on the infield tonight," said Keel, "and sometimes that'll happen when you start as many young kids as we do. It's a real problem though when the mistakes are made by your veteran kids."
Renard, who had been dinged a little by the Highlanders early in the game, then settled down and put down nine in a row before the seventh inning fireworks.
"Renard really did a nice job of mixing up her pitches, especially her speed and location," said Keel. '"She had excellent movement, which made it harder to hit."
"Lauren did a great job of having them put the ball in play and then we made the plays behind her," she said.
Renard finished with three strikeouts and one walk while scattering eight hits. Rachel Behnken had seven strikeouts with just one walk and alllowed just five hits.
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