BY BOB SAN
Coming into the 2012 softball season, the Maple Grove Crimson knew they have a talented team loaded with veteran players who played in the state tournament two years ago. They set high goals for themselves.
After winning the conference and sweeping four straight games in last week’s Section 5 Tournament, the Crimson have achieved just about all their goals. They are now just three wins away from the state championship.
"I am really excited," Crimson senior pitcher Cayli Sadler said. "At the beginning of the year we set goals and going back to state was definitely one of them. We’ve worked really hard and we beat a ton of tough teams in the sections."
The top-seeded Crimson were pushed to the brink in the first double-elimination final against red-hot Champlin Park May 29. Seeded seventh, the Rebels had eliminated second-seeded and two-time state AA champion Park Center and upset third-seeded Centennial to reach the final round.
Champlin Park scratched out three runs against Sadler and led 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning. Things didn’t look good for the Crimson when there were two outs and runners on first and second and freshman Sydney Smith was at the plate. The Crimson were down to their last strike when Smith faced a 1-2 count. But the freshman laced a hit to right field to score pinch runner Sammi Sadler from second to tie the game and send it to extra innings.
Sadler blanked the Rebels from there and the Crimson pushed across the winning run in the 10th. Smith doubled and pinch runner Sammi raced home on another clutch two-out hit, this one by Taylor Bratten, to escape with a 4-3 win.
"It was a nerve racking game but our hitting came through with a couple big hits and we pulled it out," Sadler said.
The Crimson then faced Centennial in the final after the Cougars eliminated Champlin Park and Sadler put on a dominating performance to lead the Crimson to a 2-0 victory and the section championship. She gave up just one hit and struck out 16.
"It was one of my better games but I had to rely on my defense," Sadler said.
"It was the Cayli show," Maple Grove coach Jim Koltes said, adding that the Crimson backed up their ace pitcher with some fine defensive plays. "Centerfielder Abby Bunnell made a diving catch and short stop Kylie Bratten made a great play to get Centennial’s best player out in the top of the seventh."
The Crimson now enter the state tournament as the top ranked team in the state. They open against Big Lake at 11 a.m. Thursday, June 7 at Caswell Park in North Mankato. The winner advances to the semifinal round game at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 7. The state final is 2 p.m. Friday, June 8.
"We are having a great season, very comparable to 2006 when we were state runners up," Koltes said. "In 2006 we were 23-5 and currently we are 22-2. Cayli and Mandi Mauch are breaking some all-time records. Mandi is the all-time home run leader and Cayli is now the all-time win leader, passing Shanna Sticka after the win over Centennial. And we broke a lot of single season records as well."
The Crimson are a solid team with brilliant individual players and a deep lineup consisting of players who can play solid defense and come up with key hits.
"We have played together for a long time," Sadler said. "We work hard together and we play well together. We could not have gone this far without any one of our players."
Many of the Crimson had been there before two years ago when Maple Grove took fourth in the state tournament. Some of them were starters as sophomores and ninth-graders. Now they are seasoned veterans.
"I think that experience definitely will help," said Sadler, who was the starting short stop on the 2010 squad. "All the teams there are good but I think we can make it. We can’t take any team for granted and we have to continue to play our game."