By Paul Downer
By Paul Downer
A pair of familiar foes confronted the Central softball team in the subsection playoffs last Saturday, May 26 after the third-ranked Raiders easily dispatched No. 6 GFW in the playoff opener on Tuesday, May 22 by an 11-1 score.
The result was a 4-0 win over No. 2 Belle Plaine in the subsection semifinals and a 1-0 loss to long-time nemesis LeSueur-Henderson in the subsection finals.
By reaching the finals, however, the Raiders entered the double-elimination rounds and were still in contention as of Tuesday, when they faced Maple River, the No. 4 seed from the south subsection. A victory on Tuesday would mean the Raiders will face the lower of LeSueur-Henderson and Waseca (seeded third in the south subsection later on the same evening.
If Central wins both games, the Raiders would advance to the section championship, but they would have to win twice there to claim the championship since they are working back through the loser’s bracket.
"The Raider girls match up very well vs. any team in the state right now, and if they play with intensity, discipline and purpose, they can play with anyone," said Raiders head coach Jon Lambrecht.
Central 4, Belle Plaine 0
Facing one of the toughest pitchers in the state in Belle Plaine’s Kelsey Stender, the Raiders showed their big game potential by pounding out 14 hits and scoring twice in the fifth inning and twice in the sixth to earn the win.
"I think the biggest thing our girls had to face was the stigma of this tough pitcher," said Lambrecht. "She can be slightly intimidating, and if our hitters could just react to the pitch and put the ball in play we could take care of Belle Plane’s susceptible defense. Belle Plaine did not have a consistently strong defense, and frankly they didn’t have to as Stender is among the state’s leaders in strikeouts. Belle Plaine is also does not have an overly strong offense as they basically didn’t have to score that much, that often."
Though Stender averaged 13 strikeouts per game this season, the Raiders went down without putting the ball in play just seven times in seven innings during the game. Their 14 hits were also a breakout performance, as the team had managed just eight hits total in two regular season games against Belle Plaine.
"The Raider girls came to play and they made a statement in that game by ending Belle Plaine’s season and sending them home," said Lambrecht. "The Raiders practiced well leading up to that game and they were mentally and physically prepared and it showed. It was nice to see our girls step up to the challenge and play well against a good pitcher.
At the plate, Natalie Stockman went 4-4 with a stolen base and RBI, Kaylie Brazil was 2-4 with a double and RBI, Afton Wolter was 2-4 with an RBI, and Kayla Leonhardt, Brooke Willemsen (RBI), Megan Schmitz and Megan Miller each had two hits.
Stockman also earned the win, throwing seven shutout innings and allowing just four hits. Central’s defense was solid, committing just one error.
Central 0, LSH 1
Later in the day the Raiders faced conference nemesis LeSueur-Henderson, which defeated the Raiders by a pair of one-run games during the regular season. Unfortunately, the postseason story remained the same, as the Giants edged out the Raiders by another one-run margin.
"The game was close the whole way with each team mounting small threats and not scoring," said Lambrecht.
Finally, in the bottom of the fifth inning the Giants had a double, and that runner was sacrificed to third base on a bunt. With one out, LeSueur-Henderson then executed a suicide squeeze bunt to push their only run across.
Central was unable to mount a threat in the time remaining, collecting just two hits in the game compared to four for the Giants. Schmitz and Wolter each had singles for Central.
Stockman pitched again for the Raiders and limited the Giants’ offense with help from her defense, which did not commit an error in the game.