Seek to take care of unfinished business at state
by Bob San
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
The final 5-1 score might suggest that Maple Grove’s win over Coon Rapids in last Thursday’s Section 5 softball championship game was an easy victory. In fact Coon Rapids pushed Maple Grove hard and threatened to blow the game open early. But the top-seeded Crimson settled down and rallied to win the game and the section title.
“We struggled early,” Maple Grove coach Jim Koltes said. “Coon Rapids loaded the bases twice with no out but we turned two double plays to get out giving up just one run.”
Maple Grove broke it open with a four-run rally in the fifth inning. Michelle Gorsett opened the scoring with an RBI grounder. Sammi Sadler followed with a two-run double to score Tess Wilner and Abby Bunnell and the Crimson were in control.
“Going into the game we had been confident, but after the first inning we knew we had a great game on our hands and had to play our absolute best,” Crimson junior catcher Jordan Mauch said. “When we finally got hitting in the fifth, we relaxed and played our game. As always Sydney was dominant in the circle. It was a great team effort offensively.”
The Crimson added two more runs and ace pitcher Sydney Smith found her groove and slammed the door on Coon Rapids. The Crimson went on to win 5-1 and earned their second straight state tournament. Smith scattered three hits, walked four and struck-out four to win her biggest game of the season. Smith and Bri Besel each went 3 for 3 to lead a 10-hit attack.
The Crimson have set high goals for the season but Mauch was surprised how well her team has done because it is relatively young with only four returning starters. The Crimson got off to a great start and kept on winning. They enter state with a 21-1 record.
“I was surprised with our success early on in the season due to having many new starters, and these girls just keep on surprising me,” Mauch said. “Sydney’s pitching has been phenomenal. I am so happy that I get to watch her from behind the plate. Our team is so good because it has balance. Our pitching has been great, our defense has been solid, and someone new seems to step up every night to help us win. We are a tough team to beat because there are no weak spots in our lineup.”
Bunnell said, “Part of the reason we are doing so well this year is because we have great team chemistry despite age differences. We have more than just talent, which is important when playing tough teams.”
Smith is one of the new starters. The sophomore has taken over the role of the ace pitcher in style and has compiled a 19-0 record for the season.
“My success as a pitcher and hitter could not have been accomplished if I didn’t have such great teammates and coaches to be supportive of me every step of the way,” Smith said. “We are all just so close as a team. Our chemistry is unbelievable on and off the field and that helps overcome challenges that we approach. Everyone is so supportive of each other and that makes us a really good defensive and offensive team.”
The Crimson open state tournament play against Section 3 champion Bloomington Jefferson at 11 a.m. Thursday, June 6. The semifinal is at 5 p.m. June 6. The championship game is at 1 p.m. Friday, June 7. All games are at Caswell Park in North Mankato.
Koltes said the Crimson have “unfinished business” to take care of in this state tournament.
“We are past just being excited to make the state tourney,” Koltes said. “We feel we have some unfinished business with losing in the state championship last year. We want to give our best effort and see if we can get another shot to bring home the title.”
“It would be nice to get a state championship under our belts after falling short last year; however, it has been our motto all year to just take it game by game,” Mauch said. “And that is what we will continue to do in state. Last year we had a great group of seniors that had experience in the state tournament. This year we only have four starters returning that played in state last year. It will be a challenge to not let the pressure get to us. Last year’s seniors did a fantastic job preparing us for this moment. I just hope that we can be that good of role models for the next round of Crimson softball players. We will play our hardest, and if we fall short we know that we left it all on the field.”
Bunnell said, “Getting to state is hard and going far in state is even harder. But I have high expectations for our team and, if we play as good as I know we can, we can reach the ultimate goal. The best way to approach state is taking it one game at a time just like we did last year.”
The Crimson blanked Coon Rapids 6-0 in the semifinal. Smith had 12 strikeouts, Mauch belted a two-out, two-run homer in the first inning, Sadler hit a three-run double and Bunnell had three hits.
Maple Grove then routed Irondale 10-0 in five innings in the championship first round. Bre Besel hit a three-run homer and Smith connected for a solo blast.
Bunnell, Sadler, Taylor Bratten and Sarah Southorn all had two hits apiece.
Contact Bob San at [email protected]