Rebels oust champs from softball playoffs

Ackerman single scores winning run in 2-1 victory over rival Park Center

BY NICK CLARK

nick.clark@ecm-inc.com

The section seeding process dictated the obvious. Champlin Park was a definite underdog to Park Center in the Class 3A, Section 5 softball tournament.

There wasn’t much of an argument to be made otherwise. That was, expect the ones pitted in neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn Park for the past decade.

Long before the postseason even started, Rebels head coach Bryan Woodley talked of the natural rivalry playing out whenever his team would meet up with Park Center, and how records meant nothing.

Apparently seeds didn’t matter much either.

Seventh-seeded Champlin Park ousted the two-time defending Class 2A state champions May 22, beating No. 2 seed Park Center 2-1 in an eight-inning thriller in the Section 5 quarterfinals at Rice Creek Park in Shoreview.

Senior Kristen Ackerman’s third hit of the day led to the go-head run in the top of the eighth, and classmate Katie Herron navigated the bottom half of the inning to pitch the Rebels to their second victory in as many days and directly into the double-elimination portion of the tournament.

She also simultaneously ended a memorable two-year run for Park Center, which won each of the last two Class A state championships and was one of a handful of teams labeled as legitimate contenders for the 3A crown this spring.

Champlin Park ended those hopes, and the Rebels did it by ignoring the obvious. Seeds weren’t an issue, nor were the discrepancies in the two teams overall record.

This was a neighborhood rivalry, and Champlin Park treated it as such.

"These girls have played each other so many times over the years that none of that stuff really matters," said Champlin Park head coach Bryan Woodley. "It just comes down to who wants in a little more, and I think on this day, that was us."

The Rebels were on the attack from the get-go, using an aggressive approach on the plate on the base paths that eventually led to a 1-0 lead in the sixth when Gabby Paulsrud doubled home Jordan Jenrich for the game’s first run in the top of the fifth inning.

Park Center answered back in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game, and the two teams would head to extras after Herron and Park Center pitcher Nicola Tade both made it through the seventh unscathed.

But Champlin Park struck in the eighth after Kara Stuckmeyer’s two-out double to right was followed by Ackerman’s third single of the game to put the Rebels up 2-1.

Park Center’s Katie Fern reached base with one out in the bottom of the inning, but Herron forced a pop out and a roller to third to secure the upset.

"Somebody forgot to tell them they were the seventh-seed and they were supposed to roll over," said Park Center head coach Steve Ericson. "They didn’t do that. All I can do is tip my hat to them, because they played a heck of a game. They beat us."

That’s something not many softball players can say in recent years. In four years of high school softball, three of Park Centers seniors – Fern, Tade and Megan VanHulzen – were a part of 96 victories. Two more – Jordan Peterson and Abby DeMorett – helped lead Park Center to 82 of those wins in three years with the team.

In all, the group lost just 15 total times the past three seasons. And only once did one of those end their season. It just so happened to be the last one.

"All these kids have done is won," said Ericson. "Those three girls had an outside shot of winning 100 games, which is next to unheard of. You can’t make light of what they’ve accomplished, and what it took to beat them. Credit goes to Champlin Park. They figured out a way."

By doing so, the Rebels advanced into the final four of the Class 3A, Section 5 tournament, where the ride continued with a 3-0 victory over third-seeded Centennial.

Herron struck out nine in throwing a two-hit shutout, and Kara Stuckmeyer and Marisa Boser each had a pair of hits.

The victory moved the Rebels into a winners-bracket finals match-up against top-seeded Maple Grove May 29. The winner of that game will advance into the May 31 Section championship, while the loser will play either Centennial or Mounds View for a spot in the section final.

"We’d love to still be playing," said Woodley. "We believe we can be there, I know that much."

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