Whitefish Bay girls softball coach Jess Middendorf and Nicolet coach Dave Berghaus have a sense of perspective.
They know their programs are still building, still scrambling to compete with the likes of Germantown and Homestead in their own solid North Shore Conference. They still scramble for a position in the league standings, something Bay helped itself out with with a 5-2 victory over the Knights on May 5.
So when they scheduled their joint six-team invitational on May 7, they deliberately sought out teams that were on par with them, teams that they could compete against, teams that they could get better against and have moments of truth against.
Consider the mission accomplished as both teams finished 2-1, with the Blue Dukes falling in a tough final to champion Waukesha West, 5-2, while Nicolet beat Pius XI, 16-5, for third.
'We've had the extremes in weather this year, so for us to get a nice day like this to get this in was great,' Middendorf said, 'and I thought we played well. We had a struggling start to the season because we knew it was something of a rebuilding year. We've had infielders shift to the outfield, and outfielders shift to the infield.
'But these kids have had a drive to improve, and we've taken little steps forward. We're playing as hard as we can.'
The Blue Dukes are on a good swing, too. They have won five of their last six games to improve to 8-10 overall.
Berghaus also had good thoughts on the day.
'At least four of the teams that were out there that day were very comparable,' he said. 'Pretty much even up ... the three games we played at Nicolet were decided by a total of four runs total. Very competitive, and we had really good crowds at the three games we hosted.'
The tournament was thought up several years ago by then Bay coach Jeff Trask, who is now heading up the Oak Creek program. Middendorf took over and has, with help, kept the tourney going.
For their part, the Blue Dukes defeated Dominican, 27-4, and Pius XI, 12-6, before falling to West.
'That was the first really fast pitcher we faced all day, so it took us about half the game to adjust,' Middendorf said of the West hurler. 'We gave up two home runs, but I thought we played well against a quality team.'
In the win against a rebuilding Dominican team, the Blue Dukes scored 21 runs in the second inning as Summer Koehn had four hits and seven RBIs, including three triples and a homer; Carmeil Bowler had three hits and two RBIs; and Brianna Johnson two hits and two RBIs.
Bay had a 4-0 lead on Pius XI in the second game, but then the Popes scored six times in the top of the fourth for a 6-4 lead.
'We just had a really bad stretch I went out on the mound to talk to everybody and squelched it pretty fast,' Middendorf said.
The Blue Dukes scored four times in the bottom of the fourth to take the lead for good.
Bowler had three hits, including a home run, three runs scored and two RBIs, while Makenna Kojis had two hits and scored two runs and Sabrina Doman knocked in two runs. Four different pitchers combined on the effort with Gretta Wolmer earning the win.
In the win over Nicolet, Bay took a 5-0 lead with help from a two-run first as Koehn hit a two-run homer, Hayden Nelson had three hits and Brianna Johnson two. Wolmer again earned the win with help from Johnson and Koehn. Amethyst Graham closed the gap to 5-2 with a two-run double for Nicolet in the sixth.
The Blue Dukes have used the three-person 'pitcher by committee' process all season, and it has worked pretty well, Middendorf said.
With its 2-1 record on the day, Nicolet is 10-10 overall. They downed Greendale Martin Luther, 4-3; lost to West, 9-7; and beat Pius XI, 16-5.
Berghaus was proud of the effort against Luther, as the Knights were down 3-0 before rallying for the win. A three-run fifth got them the lead for good as Maddie Steffes had an RBI double, Samantha Peltz a run-scoring single and Graham a run-scoring triple.
A great relay play from outfielder Taylor Hall to Samantha Peltz on the infield to catcher Miriam Maistelman cut down a Luther runner at the plate
Nicolet fell behind, 9-2, to West in the second round but scored five times in the sixth, including a two-run homer by Graham, to cut the deficit to 9-7. In the seventh, they had first and second with two out, but a groundout ended the game.
The game with Pius was tied at 5-5 after three before the Knights exploded for 11 runs in the fourth, including the second home run of the game by Graham, a three-run shot. She finished the contest with six RBIs, and Peltz had eight hits in the tournament.
'We're seeing who we are,' Berghaus said, 'but these kids come to practice; they want to work and develop and win games.'