|5/24/2018 3:37:00 PM|
M8 QUEENS: Vikes wrap up first conference softball crown
The North Branch Vikings softball team was crowned Mississippi 8 Conference champions for the first time in school history last week, when they finished the season with wins over Big Lake, St. Francis and Princeton.
“The final stretch of the regular season games went well. I think we have continued to play each game for itself and individually,” Head Coach Kathy Crudo said. “They know that what ever happened in their previous at bat, or the score of the previous game does not get them what they want for the next at bat or next competition. The girls haven't played the other teams jersey at all this season, instead they have completely taken care of their business, and their business only.”
North Branch 8, Big Lake 0
North Branch used their effective formula of manufacturing single runs until the floodgates open for a big inning to top the Hornets on Wednesday, May 16.
They scored one run in the bottom of the first inning when Cassie Sinn hit an RBI single. They added another single run in the third inning before breaking open the game in the fourth inning. Liz Gladtisch and Sam Pederson both drove in runs in the frame, pushing home four runs and extending the North Branch lead to 6-0.
With Pederson on the bump, that’s about all they needed. Despite getting two more runs in support, including a homerun from Amber Yoch, Pederson locked down the Big Lake lineup, allowing just two hits and striking out 11 over seven innings.
Sinn ended up three-for-four on the day.
North Branch 13, St. Francis 1
North Branch 3, St. Francis 2
The Viking had a scare in their second game, but the first game was a breeze, due in large part to an 11 run fourth inning, en rout to a 13-1 win in the first half of a double header with St. Francis on Friday, May 18.
After scoring two runs in the third inning, the North Branch offense exploded for 11 runs in the fourth inning. The runs were driven in by singles from Gladistch and Pederson, a triple from Yoch, a homerun from Sophie Smith and a double by Kate Berg.
The onslaught left the Vikings with a nice, short game as it was called due to the mercy rule after the fifth inning.
North Branch ended up with 16 hits and 13 runs while Pederson and Kristi Pilz teamed up for a one-hit shutout. Pederson started and went three perfect innings, striking out five. Pilz came in for the last two innings, allowing just one hit and one run.
The second contest was much more competitive, and St. Francis, who was 7-9 coming into the day, made a game of it early.
They struck first in the bottom of the first frame. SF’s Haley Heckenlaible hit a two run double to give the Saints the early lead.
The Vikings answered back in the top of the second inning. Heather Kost knocked in two runs with a gapper that left her with a double.
After allowing a couple of hits but no runs in the bottom of the second, starting pitcher Pilz was lifted for Pederson to start the third. The senior ace stymied St. Francis the rest of the way, allowing just one hit in three innings.
That performance set the stage for a peculiar walk off winner. Although the game was being played at St. Francis, the doubleheader was part of a make up date from the early season snowstorm. So, not only was the game only five innings, it was also North Branch batting last despite playing in St. Francis.
Heading into the bottom of the fifth inning, North Branch got what they needed, a runner aboard. Then came Yoch, who had the hot hand this week at the plate. She continued the streak when she got a green light to swing on a 3-1 pitch. She ripped a double, scoring the runner and sending NB to a walk-off win celebration.
St. Francis actually out-hit North Branch in the game 6-5, but the Lady Vikes showed their moxy in holding the Saints off until Yoch swooped in to play hero.
The win also clinched the Mississippi 8 Conference championship for the Vikings. Despite having one more game to play, they had a one game lead plus the tiebreaker on Buffalo, who was in second place.
“These girls have earned it (winning the conference), however they know and want more. They are hungry,” Crudo said. “As a coach, I am extremely proud of them and you can't take the regular season record, conference record, or even the game scores away from them – but they came into this season wanting more and utilized those games as practice. The real season starts now.”
North Branch 12, Princeton 2
The Vikings made sure, though, that there was no doubt who the conferrence champion was when they 10-runned Princeton to close their regular season on Saturday, May 19.
The Vikings scored two in the first, six in the second and three in the third, leaving the Princeton team bamboozled and shell-shocked. Kost, who has really come around from the bottom of the order late in the season, went three-for-four with four RBIs. She had two doubles and a single during the afternoon matinee game at North Branch.
As a team, the Vikings cranked out 17 hits, as Pederson and Smith each had three as well as Kost.
The win ended North Branch’s regular season at 18-1, the best in school history. They finished the season ranked second in the state in Class AAA behind only Faribault, although North Branch’s 8-0 win over Buffalo could make the argument that the Vikings have the better resumé.
“I think this past week was, other than extremely busy, very telling of this whole group,” Crudo explained. “Though we played six games in four days, the girls were mentally stronger, even if physically they were exhausted. Each individual on this team has their own goals, but collectively they have rallied for the team goals and that is just selfless ball. As coaches, we couldn't have asked for better leadership from our seniors. They have created a culture amongst the whole program that is truly something special.”
The Section 7AAA tournament began earlier this week. North Branch, as the top seed, drew eighth seeded Princeton in the first round on Wednesday, May 23, after the Press went to deadline.
If North Branch wins (they won the two regular season matchups by a combined score of 31-4), they’ll move on to play the winner of Hermantown-Grand Rapids on Saturday, May 26 at Braun Park in Cloquet.
The section final four and championships are scheduled to be played in Grand Rapids on Tuesday, May 29 and Thursday, May 31.
The second seed in the section is Chisago Lakes and the third seed is Cloquet.
North Branch finished the regular season 7-0 against section competition, beating Grand Rapids, Cloquet, Hermantown and Princeton and Chisago Lakes both twice.
“I just want the girls to go into the section how they came into this year. Taking everything as one pitch, throw, at bat, and game at a time,” Crudo said, repeating the mantra the girls have gone by all year. “I want them to never get ahead or never look ahead of anyone and just live in the present. I think this is a very humble team and their time together is what they want, doing something they love. Playoffs is where it gets fun, and with this group of girls, I don't expect anything less than that. It's been a very honoring and proud season thus far and I couldn't be more proud of everything they have done EVERY SINGLE day and just who they are as individuals.”