by ADAM GRUENEWALD
The Central softbal team capped off a banner season, going 3-1 this week to clinch the Minnesota River Conference title for the first time since 1984.
The Raiders finished 12-2 in conference and earned the #1 seed heading into sections.
CHS hosted Sibley East on Tuesday and will likely host Belle Plaine at 5 p.m. today, May 23.
Earlier last week, Central split a doubleheader with Watertown on Tuesday, winning 12-1 and losing 7-4, and won two games against Mayer Lutheran, 16-0 and 19-1.
Head coach Jon Lambrecht said his team knew the games against Watertown were big in terms of the conference picture.
“We knew the ramifications and knew at least if we were to win one of the two we would very likely clinch the conference championship,” he said.
Central put up five runs in the third inning in game one, added one in both the fourth and sixth innings before getting five more in the seventh.
“That game was fairly consistent with the way we like to play our games,” he said. “That’s just what we’ve seen this far this year. We blow up a few times a game and are fairly consistent the rest of the game.”
Natalie Stockman pitched the complete game, giving up two hits, no walks and one earned run while striking out six.
“Watertown simply could not get comfortable in that game,” said Lambrecht. “Natalie was Natalie. She took charge and worked at her own pace.”
Offensively, Kaylie Brazil went 3-for-4 with three runs scored, Kayla Leonhardt had a walk and single, and Stockman had two doubles, a triple and eight RBIs. Also, Megan Miller went 1-for-4, Brooke Raether went 2-for-4 with a run scored and McKayla Lobitz added a hit, a walk, a stolen base and two runs scored.
“I really like having her (Lobitz) at the bottom of the order,” said Lambrecht. “She’s fast as heck and a nightmare for infielders to get out.”
Stockman pitched two innings in game two, recording two strikeouts, before Brooke Willemsen pitched in relief.
The Raiders were ahead 3-0 going into the fourth inning when some defensive errors led to a seven-run inning for Watertown.
“It’s been a long time since the Raider softball team gave up seven runs in one inning,” said Lambrecht. “That’s disappointing because I feel the Raider team is better than that, a 7-4 game… Hopefully it lit a fire under the girls and they take little aspects of their game a little more serious.”
Central appeared to bounce back strong against a winless Mayer Lutheran squad Thursday, with a 16-0 game one win Thursday in five innings.
“Mayer has been struggling a little bit lately, so we kind of knew what to expect,” said Lambrecht. “We wanted to stay healthy, we wanted to get a little bit of a workout in, we wanted to try and be fundamentally sound and we wanted to get plenty of players playing time and I think we accomplished all of those things.”
Stockman went 2-for-3 with a double, a homerun and six RBIs to continue her strong week. Also, Willemsen had a 2-run single, Miller had a double and a single, Brazil had two singles and three runs scored, Leonhardt had two walks and two RBIs, Tracy George had two hits, Lobitz went 3-for-3 with two runs scored.
Stockman pitched all four innings and recorded six strikeouts while only giving up one walk. Brazil pitched the fifth, recording three strikeouts.
Game two was much of the same as Central won 19-1, and Lambrecht utilized even more of his bench.
Stockman recorded a double, a homerun and four RBIs.
“She did not dissapoint people who came to watch her play,” he said, as she went 12-for-17 with 23 RBIs, four homeruns, four doubles and a triple on the week. “The tear that that young lady is on right now, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything quite like it… The tear that she’s been on is sick.”
Hanna Kroells, Ashley Luskey, Emily Lano, Megan Knickerbocker, Kari Harms, Shyann Wickenhauser, Hailee Zellman all got playing time for Central as did senior Kaitlyn McDonald who recorded two hits.
“We got three eighth-graders (Kroells, Lano, Wickenhauser) into that game, who I believe will all be contributors in the program going into the future,” said Lambrecht.
Brazil pitched two innings to start the game, giving up two walks and recording three strikeouts. Kroells gave up one earned run, three hits and one walk while recording two strikeouts.
“I’m sure she was nervous going into it, but she did well,” said Lambrecht. “She showed me she’s got some potential… I think she’ll be ready going forward.”
Lambrecht was excited for the games against Sibley East and Belle Plaine and beyond.
“We should be good to go, hopefully stay healthy,” said Lambrecht.
The Crusaders finished the season last in the Minnesota River Conference. Mayer Lutheran was seeded No. 9 in north division of the Section 2A tournament and faced No. 8 Buffalo Lake-Hector in a play in game on May 21. Results of that contest were not available when this issue went to press. The victor advanced to play No. 1 Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity that same night.
Contact Adam Gruenewald at email@example.com.