by ADAM GRUENEWALD
The Central softball team concluded their season after an impressive playoff run to the Class 2AA section final.
The Raiders went 3-1 in playoff games at Caswell Park in Mankato this past week, defeating Belle Plaine and Maple River on Tuesday, 4-1 and 7-0, before beating LeSueur-Henderson 4-1 and losing to them 2-1 in eight innings on Thursday.
LeSueur-Henderson, who shared the Minnesota River Conference title with the Raiders and had beaten them earlier in the tournament as well, advanced to the Class AA state tournament today and tomorrow at Caswell Park in Mankato, June 5 and 6.
The Giants (19-5) will open up against St. Anthony Village on June 5 at 9 a.m.
Central finished the season at 22-4.
Graduating seniors for Central include Natalie Stockman, Kayla Leonhardt, Hailee Zellmann, Dani Feltmann, Anna Willems, Ashley Luskey and Abby Forner.
Central 4, Belle Plaine 1
Playing as the road team at Caswell Park, the Raiders fell behind early in the first inning before coming back for the win.
Abby Forner, who went 3-for-3, led off the third inning with a double and courtesy runner Hanna Kroells took third on a single by Anna Willems.
Kaylie Brazil followed with a bloop single which loaded the bases and Kayla Leonhardt later hit a 2-run single for the lead.
Forner again got the offense going in the fifth inning with a leadoff single.
“We played them before so we know what she’s got and that helps,” said Forner. “I was just being patient and laying off the high stuff.”
Brazil added another hit and Leonhardt came through with the sacrifice fly. Natalie Stockman then hit a RBI single for the 4-1 advantage.
Stockman pitched the complete game for the victory, recording seven strikeouts and giving up six hits and three walks in the effort.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Forner after the win. “It’s Belle Plaine and they’re pretty good.”
Looking ahead, she added the Raiders have to keep playing their game.
“We need to keep our momentum going and have fun and don’t play scared,” she said.
Central 7, Maple River 0
The Raiders left little doubt in their second game on Tuesday, opening up an early 6-0 lead after two innings.
In addition to throwing the shutout, Stockman came up huge at the plate as well as she drive in three runs.
The Raiders scored two in the first inning when McKayla Lobitz reached on an error, Leonhardt earned a walk and Stockman got a RBI single. Megan Miller then followed with a squeeze bunt to score Leonhardt.
The Raiders plated four more runs in the second inning with Megan Knickerbocker reached on a leadoff single, advancing to second on a sacrifice by Paige Schneider and taking third on a single by Willems. After a strikeout, Lobitz and Leonhardt both reached on infield hits that scored runs and both came home on a double to right field by Stockman.
“I can’t leave runners on base when I have the chance,” said Stockman, adding the early runs helped her on the mound.
The Raiders plated their final run in the sixth inning when Lobitz led off with a leadoff single before eventually coming around to score.
Stockman pitched well in the victory giving up four hits and two walks while striking out seven.
After the game, Stockman was already looking ahead to the matchup with LSH and sophomore pitcher Carlie Brandt.
“I’m just thinking about Thursday and what I have to do for LeSueur,” said Stockman. “We both have seen each other and both know what each other’s going to bring to the plate and we just have do our jobs.”
Central 4, LeSueur-Henderson 1
Needing to defeat LeSueur-Henderson twice because of the double elimination format, the Raiders opened with a 4-1 victory on Thursday.
Central struck first in the opening frame when Kaylie Brazil led off with a double and scored on an error.
The Giants immediately answered though as they took advantage of a couple of Raiders error to tie the game at 1-1 in their half.
Central then plated the go-ahead run in the second inning when Kayla Leonhardt reached on a single, took second on an error, stole third and scored on another error for the 2-1 lead.
Both Stockman and LSH’s Carlie Brandt would find their groove, retiring several batter in a row and working out of jams with strikeouts. Brandt finished with six while Stockman had fanned seven.
The Raiders scored again in the fifth inning when Brazil hit a two-out single and wound up scoring on an error.
Speed led to the Raiders insurance run in the seventh inning when Lobitz got a single, stole second, took third on an error and scored on a RBI single by Stockman.
Stockman held the Giants to just four hits and also gave up three walks.
LeSueur-Henderson 2, Central 1
LeSueur-Henderson came out on top in a dramatic section final game, winning on a walk-off wild pitch in the eighth inning in the team’s fifth meeting of the season.
Both Brandt and Stockman threw the entire game, limiting the scoring despite numerous threats on both sides.
Brandt usually relied on key strikeouts, of which she had 14, in those situations, while Stockman had seven strikeouts.
In a sign of the drama to come, the Raiders left the bases loaded in the first inning, while the Giants stranded a runner at third in their half.
Central scored their lone run of the game in the third inning when Brazil reached on a walk, stole second and scored on a pair of wild pitches for the 1-0.
In the bottom half of the third, two lead-off singles didn’t lead to a run for LSH as Stockman got a fielder’s choice and a strikeout and then gave up a single. Lobitz, the centerfielder, charged the ball though and came up firing to Miller, who got the ball in plenty of time to tag the runner out at home.
LSH did tie the game in the fourth inning on a two-out double by Alicia Boettcher that scored Katherine Cronk.
Both teams continued to threatened with the Raiders stranding two runners in both the fifth and sixth innings and the Giants stranded a runner at third in the fifth and two runners on in the sixth.
Both Brandt and Stockman pitched clean seventh innings and after the Raiders didn’t score in their half of the eighth, Cronk earned a one-out walk and took third on a double by Mandy Doerr leading to the walk-off wild pitch.
Contact Adam Gruenewald at email@example.com.