by Bob San
SUN PRESS Newspapers
Maple Grove’s bid for a first state softball championship was denied by a pesky Lakeville South team and its senior pitcher Kylie Stober. The Crimson managed just four hits off the future U of M Golden Gophers and while the Cougars scratched out three runs on six hits off Maple Grove ace Sydney Smith to win an exciting state title game 3-2 June 6 in North Mankato.
“We knew they are an excellent team and their pitcher is top-notched. She is going to the U of M,” Maple Grove coach Jim Koltes said. “We new we were going to have our hands full and we were looking for different things, trying to get the ball into play and try small ball a little bit and hoping to get some breaks. But it just didn’t go our way.”
Things went well for the Crimson early on. Smith retired South in order in the first and second inning and the Crimson put together a rally against Stober in the top of the third. Sammi Sadler drew a two-out walk, Smith singled off Stober and Mauch delivered a clutch two-run double to right to give Maple Grove a 2-0 lead. They were Mauch’s seventh and eighth of the state tournament.
The Cougars were tough hitters and were making contact and getting on base regularly against the usually dominant Smith, who was named Gatorade Minnesota Softball Player of the Year. Smith kept South off the scoreboard until the fourth when with two outs and a runner on second, Smith caught a comebacker but threw it over first base to allow South to score to make it 2-1.
Things got a little confusing in the top of the fifth. With two outs and Crimson Madison Gordon on third, South decided to walk Mauch. The Crimson used a play they had used all season as Mauch continued on to second as Gordon made a move toward home. But the umpire called Gordon for the third out because he ruled Gordon stopped and moved backward while Stober had the ball in the circle. Koltes argued but to no avail and the Crimson were denied a rare scoring chance.
“First he told me that the ball was in the circle and then he said my kid stopped,” Koltes said. “He was a little confused with the rules apparently and the other two guys said it’s a judgment call and they left it up to him. At that point I decided to let it go. I voiced my opinion hopefully as respectfully as I could and this is what we ended with, not getting the run.”
South threatened in the fifth but Smith came up with two big strikeouts to end the threat but the Cougars broke through in the bottom of the sixth when they strung together three hits and scored two runs to grab a 3-2 lead.
“In state tournament you’ve got to string hits together and they did,” Koltes said. “We were trying to do the same thing in the seventh.”
The Crimson didn’t go down quietly in the top of the seventh. With one out, Megan Mulchrone singled to left and Gordon beat out an infield single to third to bring up the top of the order.
“I guess there are worse places to be with second and third and Sammi Sadler and Sydney Smith up,” Koltes said. “But the stars just didn’t align for us.”
Stober had a lot to do with that. She was unfazed facing two of Maple Grove’s best hitters in Sadler and Smith and proceeded to fan them both to end the game.
The loss ended a fine season for the Crimson, who finished 22-4. While the sting of falling just short of the state title again (this is Maple Grove’s third second-place showing in five trips to state), true to his character, Koltes stayed positive and praised his team for not giving up.
“We felt like we have the pieces to get here and compete and make some noise,” he said. “And being in second place, it does not feel great at this moment but it’s sure not the worst thing in the world. It’s just so tough to get here (the state final). I am looking at Jefferson and Orono in the consolation game and you are thinking both teams are fantastic. And you have North St. Paul and Anoka in the third-place game. I mean any of those games could have been a championship game.”
The Crimson will lose some key seniors but will return a strong nucleus for another run at the elusive state title.
“I think we are in good shape next year,” Koltes said.
Mauch sparked Maple Grove to a 6-0 win over New Prague in the quarterfinal. She had three hits, including a home run, scored once and drove in five runs. Her five RBIs were one shy of tying the tournament record. Smith held New Prague in check, going the distance in a complete game shutout. She allowed just two hits and struck out 10.
Smith took a perfect game into the seventh inning and ended up with a 4-1 win over North St. Paul. Smith struck out seven.
Maple Grove led 1-0 on an RBI groundout by Sarah Michal in the third. Pinch hitter Kea Anderson came through with a two-run homer in the in the top of the sixth to open a 3-0 lead. Mauch added an RBI single in the top of the seventh. North St. Paul broke up Smith’s perfect game and scored unearned run in the seventh but Smith finished the game with a pop up.
Sadler was two for three at the plate and Mauch drove in another run.
STATE TOURNAMENT NOTES:
Smith, Sadler and Mauch were named to the all-tournament team. Mauch’s tied a state tournament record with her eight RBIs in three games.
Contact Bob San at [email protected]