June 2, 2023 at 10:25 a.m.
WIldcat Softball Heading to State
Wildcats earn second consecutive trip to State in Softball
Senior Ashley Mandell, backed by a solid defense and enough offense, pitched the Chisago Lakes Wildcat softball team to their second straight state tournament appearance as the Wildcats beat the North Branch Vikings 4-1 in the Section 7AAA championship game Thursday, June 1 at Forest Lake High School. Sophomore Anna Zaruba’s highlight film unassisted double play in the sixth preserved the 4-1 lead for the Wildcats. The state tournament will take place at Caswell Park in North Mankato next Thursday and Friday, June 8 and 9. The Wildcats will open the tournament at 11:15 a.m. on Thursday, with the opponent yet to be determined.
The Wildcats got on the scoreboard early. Courtney Preston reached on an error for the Wildcats to open the bottom of the first, continuing all the way to second. Leah Zaruba sacrificed her to third. Mandell walked and, when she reached first, kept going all the way to second, unopposed by the Vikings. Anna Zaruba hit a one-hopper to the shortstop. She attempted to tag Mandell as she ran by but dropped the ball for an error. Preston scored and Mandell went to third. Anna Zaruba stole second on the next pitch. Melana Larson bunted down the third base line. The third baseman picked up the ball about halfway down the line just as it looked like it would roll foul and threw home, but Mandell had already crossed the plate with the Wildcats’ second run of the inning. Larson stole second. Sam Johnson hit a slow two-hopper to short. The ball hit Larson as she ran in front of the shortstop, so she was out. Anna Zaruba was sent back to third and Johnson was placed on first. Melanie Anderson grounded out to end the inning, keeping the Wildcat lead at 1-0.
Mandell struck out the side in the top of the second and set the Vikings down 1-2-3 in the third. In the bottom of the third, with two outs, Anna Zaruba ripped a double to the wall in right center. Shen went to third on a wild pitch. Larson hit a hard grounder toward the hole on the left side of the infield. The shortstop got her glove on it, but the ball trickled into left for single, scoring Anna Zaruba, and the Wildcats led 3-0.
Melanie Anderson walked to lead off the bottom of the fourth. Tianna Ritter sacrificed courtesy runner Jess Dittel to second. Dittel moved to third on a passed ball. Chloe Ruza ripped a hard grounder right back through the middle and into center field to score Dittel for a 4-0 Wildcat lead.
Ellcey Johnson walked for the Vikings with two outs in the top of the fifth. Kaytlin Hammond hit a high fly ball to deep left that dropped just in front of the fence for a double, scoring Johnson. Aubrey Charpentier grounded to third to end the inning. In the bottom of the inning, after a short rain delay, Leah Zaruba walked. Mandell hit a grounder to short, forcing Leah Zaruba at second but beating the relay throw to first. As Mandell took off to steal second, Anna Zaruba drilled a ball to right center. Mandell kept running as the right fielder caught the ball and was all the way at third base when the right fielder lobbed the ball to first to complete an easy double play to end the inning.
Anna Zaruba made a potentially game-saving play for the Wildcats in the top of the sixth. After a leadoff walk, Mandell struck out Erin Pederson on a 3-2 pitch. A check swing single by Peyton Verdon put runners on first and second. Hannah Bernier stepped up to the plate and ripped a ball down the first base line that looked like it was headed to the right field corner for a two-run triple. But first baseman Anna Zaruba dove, caught the ball a foot off the ground and slapped her glove on the first base bag for an inning-ending double play, preserving the three-run lead for the Wildcats.
The Wildcats made a bid to add to their lead in the bottom of the sixth. Back-to-back singles by Larson and Johnson put runners on first and second with nobody out. Anderson dumped a Texas league single into right center to load the bases. But Ritter hit a soft liner back to the pitcher, Bernier, and she easily double pinch runner Lily Myhre off third for a double play. Ruza lined a single to right. The Wildcats tried to score Johnson from second, but a perfect throw got her by 20 feet at home, and the Wildcat lead stayed at 4-1.
Verdon reached on a bunt single with one out in the top of the seventh. Johnson hit a slow roller toward second. Second baseman Leah Zaruba charged, scooped it up and fired to first, nipping the runner on a bang-bang play. The next batter grounded out to Courtney Preston at short, and when the ball smacked into Anna Zaruba’s glove, the stands erupted, and the bench players raced out onto the field as the Wildcats celebrated their second straight section championship.