After dropping its Brooklyn Park city rivalry game against Champlin Park last season, the Park Center softball team put itself in a good position to take the victory with a four-run first inning in its latest game against Champlin Park May 11.
Park Center eventually gave up the lead, as Champlin Park earned a 17-8 victory.
“This is huge because this is a win over a sectional opponent, and it’s huge to get those under your belt,” Champlin Park head softball coach Bryan Woodley said. “You have to continue to get on a roll as we get toward section, so any win at this point is big.”
Shianne Kennedy opened the scoring with a two-run single, before Kiara Hirt, who celebrated her 16th birthday May 11, connected on a two-run triple.
“I told them to just go up there and hit,” Park Center head softball coach Neena Mathers said. “We know they can do it, they do it at practice every day.
“For them it’s just about having the confidence to hit varsity pitchers, not many of them have been on varsity before. Just being a varsity pitcher doesn’t make them any more special, so they have to be strong and confident when they get in there.”
Piper Otto hit an RBI single in the bottom of the second inning before Hirt hit a two-run single in the third inning to give the Pirates a 6-1 lead.
“I’m feeling pretty great, I don’t know how to put it into words,” Hirt said. “I just saw it and I knew it was my pitch.”
Then, Champlin Park did what it does best: hit.
Brittney Davis hit a two-run single and Otto struck again with a three-run double to tie the game at 6-6. The Rebels took their first lead of the game on a Park Center error, before Laura Kloeppner hit a two-run double to begin to extend the Rebels’ lead. Holly Blaska and Riley Husom hit back-to-back RBI singles to round out a 10-run third inning for Champlin Park.
“I think they just timed [Park Center pitcher Alexis Colbert] up,” Woodley said. “They know what they need to do, they came in a little unfocused, they knew it was Youth Night and there were a couple little distractions.
“Then they scored four runs with no outs and they knew they were here to play, so they needed to play too. They came out, timed her up and hit the ball pretty well.”
Champlin Park extended its lead to 14-6 after five innings, before Park Center added two more runs in the sixth. Champlin Park responded with three runs in the sixth to take the 17-8 victory.
Park Center highlights
With Park Center having just one victory on the season, Mathers was hoping her team would begin to believe itself as the section tournament approaches.
“We needed something, for sure, especially since we have one week of games before sections,” Mathers said. “I think they needed to see themselves do that.
“They needed to see themselves hit, see themselves compete against a team that is good. They sometimes use their age as a crutch, so I’m happy they know they can do it now.”
After the game, Mathers noted that her team was happy with how well it played, and felt her team had taken a major stride forward.
“This is where we want to see them,” Mathers said. “Champlin is a great team, so it’s fun to see them come out and start off and hit, play great defense and have our pitchers come through.
“We had one tough inning and if you subtract that inning it is a very well-rounded game.”
Park Center (1-12) will play its next game of the season against Blaine at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, May 18, at Park Center High School.
Champlin Park highlights
The Rebels’ season has been up-and-down to this point, as Champlin Park has followed big wins with tough losses at different points throughout the season.
The Rebels opened last week with a 10-8 loss to Anoka May 8, and a 6-0 loss to Blaine May 9, before the Park Center victory and a 9-1 win over Hopkins May 12.
After the rough start to the Park Center game by pitcher Taylor Sloat, Woodley felt Sloat was able to gain confidence once she was able to hit her spots. That confidence also appears to have translated to the Hopkins victory.
“I think she stopped trying to aim the ball and be too perfect and just started throwing the ball like she is capable of,” Woodley said. “When she trusts her stuff, she is a tough pitcher to hit and we saw that today.”
Husom (3-for-5 with four RBIs, one run scored and a stolen base), Blaska (2-for-3 with four runs scored, two RBIs and four stolen bases), Gilk (2-for-2 with two runs scored and two RBIs), Otto (3-for-5 with two runs scored and four RBIs) and Davis (3-for-5 with three RBIs) also helped lead the Rebels to the victory.
Champlin Park (8-9) will play next against Irondale at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, May 18, at Irondale High School.
Contact Chris Chesky at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris.