Surprising Rebels bow out of softball playoffs

Champlin Park falls after taking top-ranked Crimson to 10-innings

BY NICK CLARK

nick.clark@ecm-inc.com

There was plenty of time to think, only because hardly a word was uttered.

The Champlin Park softball team bussed back to school May 29, stunned into silence at the sudden end to a record breaking season.

Collectively, the girls wondered quietly to themselves how, after all they had accomplished, does it end like this?

The Rebels were the story of the Class 3A, Section 5 softball tournament. They were seeded just seventh out of the dozen teams entered in the playoff, but quickly advanced into the section semifinals with extra inning victories over No. 10 Rogers and then No. 2 Park Center.

From there, the Rebels moved on, beating third-seeded Centennial 3-0 May 25 to earn a spot in the winners-bracket final, where they would meet top-seeded and No. 1 ranked Maple Grove May 29.

Ten-innings later, the Rebels were forced to drag their dejected bodies back onto the field with their season on the line.

Champlin Park lost to Maple Grove 4-3 when the Crimson’s Sydney Smith connected on a 0-2 delivery from Rebel pitcher Katie Herron to end it.

That left Champlin Park in a now-or-never showdown with Centennial, where an injured Herron had to leave after an inning only to watch as the Rebels lost 5-3 to end their season.

"It is so tough, because you go from one pitch away from beating the No. 1 team in the state, to having to play for your lives," said head coach Bryan Woodley. "You are in the moment right there, and you could tell. We made some real mental mistakes against Centennial, and they cost us."

The fact that the Rebels were able to mentally get up for the game in the first place was a testament to their fortitude.

Maple Grove had already beaten Champlin Park twice during the regular season, and the Rebels were no-hit through three innings with eight of the nine outs coming courtesy of Cayli Sadler strikeouts.

But after spotting the Crimson an early 1-0 lead, the Rebels got to Sadler in the fourth. Emma Lehman doubled, Marissa Boser coaxed a walk, Kara Stuckmeyer tripled, and by the time the inning was over, Champlin Park was up 3-1.

The Crimson got one back in the bottom of the inning, then tied it in the seventh. Maple Grove could have won in their last at-bat, but the Rebels got an out at home to send the game to extra-innings.

Champlin Park proceeded to put runners on base in the eighth, ninth and 10th, but failed to take advantage. Maple Grove got its chance in the 10th, and the Crimson acted on it.

"You have to credit them, because somebody needed to score a run, and they got it," Woodley said. "We had our chances, we just didn’t finish them."

Those chances would come again over the next few hours, but Centennial capitalized on a handful of Champlin Park miscues, sending the Rebels home with nothing tangible to show for what was a remarkable postseason run.

"It seems a little unfair, because for the girls, it will be six or seven years from now that they look back and realize the significance of what they did," Woodley said. "That’s especially true if Maple Grove does what I expect them to do and win the state tournament. Then maybe they see that could have been us."

In the meantime, they Rebels will have to settle for what was them. Champlin Park won a school-record 16 games this spring and finished fourth in the Northwest Suburban Conference just one year after avoiding last place in the league by just one game.

They beat Park Center twice, and pushed Maple Grove to the bitter end of that winner’s bracket final.

When it was done, it hurt, and they grieved in silence. But their impact on the program was plenty loud.

"They set a new standard for Champlin Park," said Woodley, who will return 11 from the varsity roster next spring. "We are not going to be a team that finishes fourth in the conference and now back to the bottom they go again. That is the real test to see if what we are doing here is the right thing. It can’t be one and done. It has to be better the next year, and better the year after that, and these girls made sure of that."

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