By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
It’s was an extremely busy week for the St. Michael-Albertville softball team. So busy that it played over half of its scheduled games in the regular season over a span of one week.
The Knights played eight games in seven days and posted a 4-4 record over that stretch. The week started out on a sour note as STMA dropped a 6-4 game on May 7 to Spring Lake Park. The following day they were on the wrong end of the scoreboard in a 14-8 home defeat to Chisago Lakes – a team the Knights will be seeing a lot of in the near future, as the Wildcats will be moving to the Mississippi 8 next season.
“We weren’t sure what to expect and we sat out (senior pitcher) Alex Berg and started (senior) Paige Burditt,” said STMA head coach Kellie Shumway. “They are a very good hitting team and we look forward to playing them in the future.”
The Knights were back at it the following day picking up a key doubleheader sweep over conference rival Monticello. STMA took the first game 9-4 and won game two 13-7.
If that wasn’t enough, STMA jumped on the bus the next day for a pair of games Friday afternoon at the Mankato West Invite. Berg pitched the Knights in the opening game to a thrilling 2-1 win over Mankato West. Class 3A power Hill-Murray took care of business with a 13-1 blowout in game two, ending the Knights’ three-game win streak.
Winners of three of its past four games, STMA hit the home stretch with a big doubleheader on Monday against co-conference leaders Big Lake.
“There are eight seniors and at the beginning of the year, almost everyone had conference champs as a goal this season,” Berg said. “The eight seniors in the summer have gone to nationals and state. We should do pretty well.”
With Berg once again toeing the rubber, the Knights rallied from a 6-3 deficit and rallied in the seventh inning for a 7-6 opening victory. The rally started after freshman outfielder Tia Zachman and senior catcher Bianca Zins each reached on a pair of one-out singles. Two Hornet errors helped prolong the rally and sophomore Ashley Stecker had a key RBI single to propel the Knights to their fourth win in five games.
“It was a back-and-forth game,” Shumway said. “Alex pitched extremely well and we were able to get some big hits towards the end. Stecker stepped up and had some nice hits for us.”
The Knights looked to be on their way to another conference win after staking Berg to an early 4-1 lead after one inning in the nightcap. But Big Lake pitcher Jaiden Lund found her groove and shutout the Knights the rest of the way, retiring 18 of the next 21 hitters she faced.
With the game tied 4-4 in the fourth inning, STMA stranded the bases loaded. Big Lake in turn would load the bases in their next plate appearance and blew the game open scoring three runs in the fifth and taking a 7-4 lead. The runs were more than enough support for Lund, as she went on to retire the final 10 hitters in a row to salvage the split and a 3-way tie (as of Monday) with STMA and Buffalo for the conference lead.
“Their defense played really well and their outfielders made some key catches,” Shumway said. “We didn’t get the key hits with runners in scoring position and they did. That was the game changer.”
STMA had a pivotal conference game Tuesday (results not available) with the Bison that likely will decide the fate of the conference standings. Big Lake was at Rogers for two games on Tuesday. The regular season concludes with a game Friday night at 7 p.m. against Eden Prairie.
With section play starting May 20; it may be wise for the Knights to rest Berg in the non-conference matchup against the Eagles.
“Yes,” said Berg, when asked if her arm is getting sore after pitching both games against Big Lake and six of the last seven games overall. “But my body is hanging in there.”