BY BOB SAN
Maple Grove came up one win short in its bid for a first state softball title when it lost to Stillwater 6-2 in the state championship game Friday, June 8, at North Mankato.
The Crimson rolled into the final with a 7-0 win over Big Lake in the quarterfinal and a 3-0 victory over Orono in the semifinal. But a Stillwater team that got hot at the right time dashed their state championship hopes.
Hall of Fame baseball player Wee Willie Keeler was famous for his strategy for hitting – ‘Hit ‘em where they ain’t.’ The Stillwater Ponies perfected that art as they repeatedly came through with fly balls or ground balls that fell just between Crimson fielders.
In the first inning, Stillwater had two on and two outs when the next batter lifted a flare that fell between MG’s second base and right fielder for an RBI single. The next hitter grounded a hit between short and third to give Stillwater a 2-0 lead.
In the second, Maple Grove scored one run to make it 2-1 on a Kylie Bratten double to center but left two runners on. Stillwater came right back with two runs in the bottom of the frame when it had runners on second and third with two outs and the Ponies got another fly ball to drop just inside the line in short right to bring in two more runs to make it 4-1.
The Crimson had scoring chances but could not get the ball to fall in key situations and managed only two runs. Their best chance for a big rally came in the fourth when they loaded the bases on singles by Bratten, Abby Bunnell and Sarah Dominicak with one out. But they scored just one run on an error and left the bases loaded.
"In the state tournament it’s whoever is hot," Maple Grove senior Mandi Mauch said. "Stillwater just put the ball in play and in places we weren’t and we just happened to hit it at them. We left 10 runners on base so there were a lot of runs that could have been scored."
Stillwater added single runs in the fourth and sixth inning to make it 6-2. When Crimson senior pitcher Cayli Sadler opened the seventh with a scorching liner that was caught by the SW centerfielder, the Crimson knew this was not their day.
Both teams had eight hits with Bratten, Bunnell and Sydney Smith getting two hits for Maple Grove and Mauch walked three times. The key was that the Ponies managed to make contact and struck out only three times against Sadler and coerced three walks.
"A couple of dink hits did us in," said Crimson coach Jim Koltes. "We actually had more hits but they got two dink hits. You need all those Texas Leaguers, little flares. They had two of those fall in and got them four runs. If we catch those it’s 2-2 and we go on to the eighth inning and see what happens."
The Crimson finished the best season in school history with a 24-3 record.
"It’s a great, great season for these kids," Koltes said. "They accomplished just about everything they laid out at the start of the year. The only thing they didn’t get was the state championship, but there are 99 teams in the state that compete for the state title and one team gets it. It seems hard to be standing here and you are second place and the kids feel bad that it’s second place but once they get the chance to reflect on it they are really going to be proud of themselves."
"I am really proud of our team," Mauch said. "We came out here and put our best effort but today it just wasn’t enough."
Mauch is one of eight seniors who helped lead Maple Grove to two state tournaments in the past three years and bring home a second-place and a fourth-place trophy in 2010.
"I am really excited for everyone in our senior class. Everyone is going to go on to big things," Mauch said. "I am just hoping we have left a great mark on Maple Grove and I hope lots of kids come out next year and try to make that mark again."
Sadler had 13 strikeouts and helped her own cause by driving in the game’s first run in the 3-0 win over Orono. Mauch provided the insurance with a two-run homer in the fifth inning.
Maple Grove scored in the third when Dominicak laid down a bunt single, advanced to second on a passed ball and came home on Sadler’s single to left field. In the fifth Sadler got her second single of the game and Mauch followed with her two-run shot to left.
Maple Grove defeated Big Lake 7-0. Breanna Bissel drove in the game’s first runwith a two-out infield single with the bases loaded in the fourth. Maple Grove broke the game open with a six-run fifth inning. Sadler walked, Mandi Mauch singled, and Jordan Mauch doubled to center field to drive in one run. Smith singled up the middle to score another run, Alex Horton singled to left field to score another, Smith scored on an error and Bunnell doubled to bring in two more runs to make it 7-0.
Sadler finished with 11 strikeouts and allowed just two hits.
ALL TOURNAMENT TEAM
Sadler, Mandi Mauch and Smith were selected to the all-tournament team.