NORTH MANKATO - Maple River's plan to intentionally walk Kelsy Kannegiesser in the semifinals of the Class AA state softball tournament seemed to make all the sense in the world at the time.
After all, Kannegiesser delivered the game-winning hit earlier in the day for New Ulm against Kasson-Mantorville to complete a come-from-behind, 3-2 win in the quarterfinals. So in the bottom of the seventh, with the score tied at 3-3 and a runner on second base, Maple River decided to walk Kannegiesser for the second time in the game.
But Makayla Rahn's pitch wasn't far enough outside, and the aggressive Kannegiesser took a chance and swung at the pitch. The ball landed just inside the right field line, scoring Jill Gareis from second base to send New Ulm to the Class AA state championship game with a 4-3 win.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
New Ulm’s Brittany Hoffmann drives a pitch during the Eagles’ opening round win against Kasson-Mantorville in the Class AA State Softball Tournament Thursday at Caswell Park in North Mankato.
The Eagles (22-3) will play St. Anthony Village at 1:30 p.m. today at Caswell Park.
While Maple River's attempt to put Kannegiesser on via the free pass didn't work, Kannegiesser herself admitted she had no idea what was going on in that final plate appearance.
"It felt so good, I had no idea they were intentionally walking me, and after the game, everyone goes, 'Kelsy, you know they were setting up on the other side of the box and trying to walk you,'" Kannegiesser said.
"She was intentionally walked the time before, and that time I told her, and I think that when you're told [you're being walked] that you just relax in the box, so this time I didn't tell her and she just went with it," New Ulm coach Kristi Andersen Loose said. "There was no thinking, there was no second-guessing. She was going to go with the pitch and she found a pitch she liked."
In that semifinal game, New Ulm led after two innings, scoring once in the first after Abby Kamm came home on Brittany Hoffmann's two-out single.
In the bottom of the second, Katie Forst singled and later scored on an error and New Ulm led 3-0 when Ellie Schneider scored.
But Maple River didn't go away. It scored a single run in the fifth to make it 3-1 and then tied the game in the top of the sixth when Melissa Landsteiner and Erica Hengel scored.
The game remained tied until Kannegiesser stepped to the plate in the seventh with two outs. She was just the right person to hit at that time for New Ulm.
"We have so much confidence in her, and we saw that she was being intentionally walked, so I just thought maybe I'll wait this out," Gareis said. "But when I saw her go for the hit, it was quite a good feeling."
Kannegiesser earned the win, pitching 6 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and two runs. Sydney Schuck allowed one run on two hits in 1/3 of an inning.
Rahn took the loss. She went 6 2/3 innings, allowing seven hits and two walks. She allowed two earned runs.
Kannegiesser was 3-for-3 with an RBI and Gareis was 1-for-3 with a run scored. Hoffmann had a hit and an RBI and Forst picked up two hits in the No. 9 spot in the order. Both her and Schneider scored a run along with Kamm.
Earlier in the day, New Ulm defeated Kasson-Mantorville 3-2 to advance to the semifinals. There, the Eagles had plenty more drama to overcome, this time coming at the hands of a freshman pitcher.
KoMets pitcher Maddison Damon pitched eight innings and struck out 10, allowing five hits in the game. The Eagles weren't able to get any offense going until the top of the seventh.
Down 2-0, New Ulm staged a rally that was started by Kannegiesser.
Kannegiesser singled and came around to score on Hoffmann's double to make it 2-1. Prior to that inning, Damon was dominant. But after that, the Eagles shifted the momentum their way.
"She had a good fastball and she had a good rise-ball," Hoffmann said. "We just kept struggling trying to lay off the high balls."
Kali Denn's sacrifice bunt moved Hoffmann to third and that set the stage for Schuck, who laid down a perfectly placed bunt on a squeeze play to tie the game at 2-2.
The Eagles and KoMets needed extra innings, and in the eighth inning the Eagles got the go-ahead run when Kannegiesser singled to right to score Schneider.
Kannegiesser finished the first game 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI and Hoffmann was 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. Maddie Kral and Gareis also had a hit and Schneider scored a run for New Ulm.
For the three New Ulm seniors (Kristen Forstner, Kannegiesser, Gareis), it's a great feeling to be at this stage considering they've come close to the state tournament before only to be denied.
"It feels so great just to finally be in that position," Gareis said. "We've come so close year after year, and now to finally get here, we're feeling really good in our team and really confident in each other."
And for Andersen Loose, it's a great feeling as well. She was part of the last Eagles team that made it to state in 1997 as a player. Now she gets to be on the other side as a coach, and she's enjoying the ride just as much as the players.
"What can you say when the girls keep coming up clutch?" Andersen Loose said. "They just make you believe, and they've done it all year. The girls know that they've got defense when they need it and offense when they need it somehow. They just keep coming up clutch."