By Jon Arends
The Orono High School softball team earned the school’s first-ever trip to the 3A Minnesota State High School League State Softball Tournament with a 4-1 victory over Wayzata May 31 at Richfield.
Orono won the state softball championship in 2008, but that was at the Class 2A level. The win by the No. 3 seed Spartans was the second over the No. 1 seed Trojans in the double elimination field. Orono previously defeated Wayzata 9-1 May 25 to move into the undefeated winners bracket.
Both teams came out swinging the bats in the first inning. Orono’s Shelby Earley led off the game with a base hit but was forced out on a bunt play by Madison Arends. Arends moved to second base on a groundout and scored the game’s first run on a RBI knock by Mackenzie Williams for a 1-0 Orono lead.
Wayzata answered back stringing together a couple of hits following a lead-off walk to knot the score at 1-1. However, that was all the scoring Sam Hartmann allowed. The junior southpaw went the distance to earn the win allowing five hits, three walks and striking out nine Wayzata hitters.
The game remained tied heading into the sixth inning when Orono manufactured a run with only one hit. Jessica Flakne led off with a single, went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Emily Geelan, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a RBI sacrifice fly by Hartmann for a 2-1 Orono lead.
The Spartans added some big insurance runs in the seventh inning. Earley stroked a one-out double off the left field fence and Arends followed with an infield single to set the table for Becky Smith, the team’s leading RBI producer. Smith didn’t disappoint drilling a two-run double scoring Earley and Arends for a 4-1 lead.
Wayzata continued to battle in the bottom of the frame bringing the tying run to the plate with two outs. But Hartmann snuffed out the rally with a little help from Arends who made a running catch in center field for the final out and set off a Spartan victory celebration on the field.
"It was a nicely played game by both teams. We were fortunate to hold Wayzata to one run," said Orono Head Coach Mike Carter.
"It was a gutsy performance by Sam Hartmann, but we had confidence if we could continue to stop their offense that we would string together some hits before it was over."
Orono knocked out 11 hits – three by Earley, two each by Smith and Williams and single hits by Arends, Flakne and Hartmann. As a team, Orono batted .347 during sectional play led by Earley who was 10-16 (.625) with a double, two RBI’s and two runs scored. Williams batted .500 including a home run and four RBI’s. Smith went 7-15, added a team-high nine RBI’s and four extra base hits including a pair of game winning triples against Buffalo and Hopkins. In addition, Geelan, Hartmann and Arends all batted over .300 for the tournament with Arends leading the team in runs scored with six.
The Spartan pitching tandem of Hartmann and Hannah Bergh allowed only five earned runs over the four games with Hartmann striking out a total of 33 hitters.
The win pushes Orono’s overall record to 23-1 and into a first round meeting against Forest Lake (23-1) at the State Tournament June 7 in Mankato.