8/15/2013 2:48:00 PM Girls' road to state championship not an easy one
by JEFF NORTON
For a group of talented softball playing girls, Father’s Day became the turning point in what would eventually be a state championship season. The 14U B team that won the state title late last month knew they had something special after playing in the St. Francis Father’s Day tournament in the middle of June. In that tournament, the girls played the Minnesota Chaos, a top-level softball program, and beat them 1-0 to claim the tournament. The girls didn’t make a single error in the game and made a handful of marvelous defensive plays to keep the game at 1-0.
Natalie Nordahl rocketed a throw home from right field to cut down a runner trying to score, preserving the lead, and Brooke Mueller made two amazing diving stops from her shortstop to position to take away hits from Chaos players. That victory in mid-June helped propel the ‘Cats to the state championship in late-July. The Wildcats had to go through a few challenges along the way, though. In the first round of the state tournament, CL beat Prior Lake 6-4, moving them on to play Roseville. Against Roseville, the ‘Cats were down 2-1 in the sixth inning and running out of time, but their offense, which was deadly all year long, awoke and sprang for nine runs in the bottom of the sixth and CL won 10-2.
After those two wins, the Wildcats, who were a ‘B’ team throughout the year when they compiled their 43-3 record, played strictly ‘A’ teams. It began with a 6-3 victory over Brainerd and then a thrilling 5-4 win over the Marty Mudcats, another top level softball program in Minnesota. They scored five quick runs against the Mudcats, and then held on for the 5-4 victory. CL then moved on to play Irondale, who was second in their ‘A’ Division on the year. They trounced the Knights 6-0 and sent them into the loser’s bracket. The Wildcats had already punched their ticket to the state title game, just awaiting the results of the lower half of the bracket.
When Irondale came back through it, CL struck again, beating the Knights 9-3 and claiming their 14U state championship. In the game, the Wildcats were down 3-0 going into the fifth inning, and it almost looked like they would play a winner-take-all third game between the two squads. But, the ‘Cats answered with two runs in the fifth, three in the sixth and four in the seventh to win 9-3.
“The girls just never gave up all year, and especially not in that game,” Head Coach Don Lynch said. “They played hard every inning and every game.” During the state tournament, one of the big reasons for the ‘Cats success was the consistent battery of Cassie Lynch and Quinncy Zupko. Lynch pitched to Zupko in 38 of the 42 innings in the tournament, with the only four missed being early against Prior Lake. Coach Lynch knew the girls were capable of anything after that weekend in St. Francis over Father’s Day. He said the highest any recent upper level CL team had finished at the tournament was fifth, but the girls cruised to the title game and beat the Chaos.
Despite only having three losses on the season, two of them were in the Tri-County qualifier and Lynch said it was a mental test for the girls to recover from late losses like that. “They responded very well after we were placed in a level a bit too high for us in the qualifier,” he said. “We just gave them encouragement, but the girls were confident all year and never got down.”
On the season, the offense paced the ‘Cats often. Lynch led the team with a .527 batting average and 18 extra base hits. Emily Hammer was right behind with a .495 average. Here are some notable stats from the girls this year: Cassie Lynch – Pitcher and 2nd base - .527 avg with 18 XBH and 14 RBI Quinncy Zupko – Catcher and 3rd base - .388 avg, 11 XBH Alyssa Bjelland – Pitcher and 1st base - .371 avg, 16 2B, 18 XBH, 11 RBI Brooke Mueller – Shortstop - .447 avg Kailey McKnight – 3rd base and 1st base - .411 avg, 12 RBI Ellie Kimlinger – utility player - .327 avg Kari Martinka – Center field - .388 avg Natalie Nordahl – Right field and 2nd base - .221 avg Emily Hammer – Catcher and left field - .495 avg, 23 RBI Sarah Novack – right field - .427 avg Alison Gajeski – Pitcher and outfield - .363 avg