by Bob San
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
The Maple Grove Crimson had high hopes of returning to the state championship game at this year’s state tournament at North Mankato June 6 and 7 but had to settle for the fourth-place trophy.
The Crimson won its state opener against Blooming Jefferson but suffered two tough losses in a row to Prior Lake and Forest Lake.
“The state tournament is always fun. There are many talented teams with talented players,” senior captain Abby Bunnell said. “As great as it was to go to state and come home with a trophy, we all wished we could have gone farther.”
“Getting to the state tournament was a great experience,” junior captain Jordan Mauch said. “Most of us knew what to expect after last year, but every year is different and it is always fun. Every team goes there to win it all, but unfortunately only one can do it. There are only three other teams that didn’t wish they could have gotten fourth place out of about 100 class 3A teams in the state. Taking fourth place is a huge accomplishment.”
The returning Crimson are already thinking of making it back to state next season.
“Getting back to the state tournament is always a goal for us,” Mauch said. “We are losing five starters, but we have many talented players in our program. We will all be working hard to improve our skills. Hopefully, with another year of experience under our belts we can rally together next year and make a return trip to the state tournament.”
The Crimson opened with a thrilling 2-1 win over Bloomington Jefferson when Jordan Mauch drove in Bunnell with a two-out base hit in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Sydney Smith scattered three hits over seven innings while striking out three.
Prior Lake used its timely hitting to dash Maple Grove’s state title hopes with a 5-3 win in the semifinal.
The Lakers scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the first and second and then held on. Maple Grove rallied for three runs in the fourth and had the bases loaded with one out but Prior Lake got out of trouble with a third-to-home-to-first double play.
Prior Lake added an insurance run in the sixth. Maple Grove got the tying run to the plate in the seventh with two outs but a fly ball to right ended the inning and the game.
Bunnell went three for four and Smith had two hits. Smith gave up seven hits and two earned runs, walked three and had five strikeouts.
Maple Grove suffered another tough loss when Forest Lake rallied for four runs in the top of the seventh to defeat the Crimson 4-3 in the third-place contest.
Smith kept Forest Lake off the board in the first six innings as she forced Forest Lake to leave nine runners on base. She took a 3-0 lead into the seventh when the Rangers exploded for four runs.
Sam Sadler and Taylor Bratten each had two hits for Maple Grove. Smith took the loss, giving up 10 hits and four walks and had four strikeouts.
The Crimson ended the season with a 22-3 record. Maple Grove will return many top players, but will also lose several top seniors, including Bunnell, who played on three state tournament teams in her career.
“I have been so lucky that I got to play for Crimson softball,” said Bunnell, who was named to the all-tournament team. “Not only did I get to go to state three times but I also got to play with wonderful players and coaches. Winning three section titles in my career with Maple Grove is more than anything I could have dreamed of as a young softball player. Every year I have learned that in order to win we have to play our best and not walk in there and expect to win.”
Contact Bob San at [email protected]