By Paul Downer
By Paul Downer
An outstanding season for the Central softball team came to a close in the section quarterfinals last week.
The Raiders advanced out of their subsection with wins over GFW and Belle Plaine, but a 1-0 loss to LeSueur-Henderson meant the Raiders had to take a longer road to the section championship. The first opponent on that road was Maple River, and the Raiders fell 4-3 on Tuesday, May 29 at Caswell Park in Mankato.
With that loss, their overall season record ended up at 17-7, with five of those losses coming by just one run.
Against Maple River, the eventual section champion, the Raiders threatened in the first when Kayla Leonhardt reached first, was sacrificed to second and advanced to third on a passed ball. A dangerous Maple River pitcher, however, struck out Central’s third and fourth batters to end the inning.
"That doesn’t happen very often, so that was a testament to their pitcher," said Central head coach Jon Lambrecht, who noted that the Maple River individual was nominated for all-state honors this year. "That pitcher was fast enough to pose a little bit of a threat and effectively wild enough to not be predictable, so our good, good hitters – which we do have several – couldn’t really get comfortable."
While Central’s first-inning threat fizzled, Maple River scored three runs in its half of the first to take an early lead. The Eagles added another run in the fourth inning to take a 4-0 lead, but the Raiders began to rally in the fifth with three runs on a couple of hits, a walk, and a misplay by the Eagles.
Unfortunately for Central, that single inning’s work was not enough to catch up, and Maple River’s pitcher shut down the offense for the remainder of the game. In fact, Central had just three total hits. Megan Schmitz collected two of them and scored a run, and Kaylie Brazil went 1-2 with a single and a sacrifice.
"We didn’t string enough together," said Lambrecht. "Maple River is a good team. Are they a great team? I’m not sold. I’m not sure. But clearly they deserved to win more that day than we did, and anything can happen in one game. I think our team was more talented, but the talented team isn’t guaranteed anything unless they show up and perform, and I don’t think we did that day up to our ability."
Lambrecht said that while the Raiders committed two official errors, there were another two or three mistakes that proved costly.
"We didn’t play our best game. We made a few mental errors and tried to force defensive plays rather than taking the outs that were there. We have gone this far over the last several years. When you get to this point where you’re in the final four of the section, if you don’t play clean you usually don’t win," he said.
Only two of Maple River’s runs were earned against Central’s Natalie Stockman, who threw six innings and allowed six hits and three walks while striking out four.
Maple River went on to defeat Waseca 12-0 to reach the section championship, where the Eagles then beat LeSueur-Henderson twice to qualify for the state tournament.
"We lost to LeSueur three times by one run this year, and lost to Maple River by one run after not playing up to our ability," said Lambrecht. "They earned it, bottom line. We had the opportunity, which is what we wanted, but we didn’t earn it. You can’t hang your head. You just have to take it and move on and get better as a team and as individuals and come back hungry next year."