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A look back: Back-to-back titles for New Ulm softball program

NEW ULM — Kristi Andersen Loose remembers the two-year run where New Ulm was on top of the Minnesota softball world just like yesterday.

The Eagles pulled off a rare repeat, winning state titles in 2012 and 2013. They did it with two different ace pitchers and two different catchers. It was also two different teams, in a sense. But no matter the circumstances and challenges, the Eagles were able to find the magic go capture the crown.

The Eagles finally got past Pipestone Area in the Section 3AA finals in 2012. The Arrows had ended New Ulm’s season many times before, but this time it was New Ulm’s turn.

“Basically, the goals for everyone within the Eagles’ program, had been for years, to win that section championship,” Anderson Loose said. “We were done with red medals, we just wanted a blue one. It was years and years of so many tears and so many emotions packed into winning that section championship game. It was certainly larger than winning that game, it was a community of alumni, alumni parents, it was just such a long list of people that we as a team wanted to win that thing for. It was just totally an unmatched feeling and uncharted territory for all of us.”

Sarah Nelsen, who played center field on both teams her junior and senior years, is now a volunteer assistant coach for the program.

She remembers finally getting to Caswell Park as a state tournament qualifier. Even though they got there, there was still a lot of pressure on them to succeed.

“It kind of, in a way created a path for future times in New Ulm, for softball athletes to get to the state tournament and see what we could do,” Nelsen said of that first title. “I think it put a lot of pressure not only on our pitching, but our defense and offense, just knowing that our backs were already against the wall and we had to try harder than any of the other teams there to really get to the state championship game.”

Kristen Forstner, the catcher on the 2012 team and current B-squad coach, was a five-year varsity player. She remembers finally getting past Pipestone in the section finals and what a relief that was.

“It was surreal, just because I was on the team since eighth grade before that, so I was a part of all the losses [in the section finals] before that” Forstner said. “It was just super cool, finally getting to the field. We knew that we were coming in as the underdogs just being there. I think the first game even got rain delayed and everyone was just huddled under the concession stand, it was just a weird start to it. But just seeing all the Eagles fans just flooding in, we had a crazy amount of fans there and people that followed us that we didn’t even know followed us and they were showing so that was super cool.”

2012 (23-3)

The Eagles won their first state championship thanks in part to the bat and arm of Kelsy Kannegiesser. The Eagles’ ace went 11-3 with a .95 ERA and 128 strikeouts, but she was even more impressive at the plate.

The tournament run was impressive for New Ulm, but there was plenty of drama in all three games. New Ulm had to rally in all three games to earn the win, all three of those rallies coming late in the game.

“I remember how strong our pitching and infield and outfield was,” current assistant coach and then-player Briana Sieve said. “It was crazy to be a part of that team where you just saw so much power and so much grit. I was young when I was on this team, I was doing running for the catcher and pitcher, it was kind of one of those unforgettable seasons because you know you’ve got a powerhouse catcher and pitcher and everyone else is just fantastic behind them.”

Andersen Loose said that the parents really helped the team stay focused.

“The girls, we were all just so excited to get there that I think the parents were the ones that came out and set that bar,” Andersen Loose said. “They said that you can win this thing, it’s cool that you beat Pipestone, but you’re going to a state tournament and you can win this thing now.”

In 2012, Kannegiesser hit .529 with nine home runs, 14 doubles, 60 RBIs, 54 hits and a .990 slugging percentage. She was named the All-Journal Softball Player of the Year and she had an impressive state tournament run.

Once the tournament rolled around, Kannegiesser delivered the game-winning hit in a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Kasson-Mantorville in the Class AA quarterfinals.

In that game, overcame a dominant starting performance from K-M freshman Maddison Damon, who pitched eight innings and struck out 10, allowing five hits. Trailing 2-0 late in the game, New Ulm finally scored its first run of the game in the seventh.

Kannegiesser ignited the rally when she singled and later scored on Brittany Hoffmann’s double to make it 2-1 in favor of the KoMets. Sydney Schuck then followed with a perfectly placed squeeze bunt that scored Hoffmann from third to tie the game.

Kannegiesser then delivered the game-winning RBIs in the eighth to score Ellie 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.

In the quarterfinals against Maple River, she delivered again, this time in an unlikely way.

Tied 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh, New Ulm had Jill Gareis on second base. Maple River attempted to intentionally walk Kannegiesser, but Makayla Rahn’s pitch wasn’t far enough outside and Kannegiesser connected and drove it down the right field line, sending New Ulm to the state championship game with the 4-3 win.

Kannegiesser was 3 for 3 in that game with an RBI and Gareis was 1 for 3. Kannegiesser also earned the win, going 6 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and two runs.

In the state championship, New Ulm battled St. Anthony Village and claimed a 9-5 victory, but once again, there was drama.

New Ulm trailed 5-4 in the seventh inning, but the Eagles tied the game to send it into extra innings.

Then in the eighth inning, Hoffmann delivered a three-run home run to put New Ulm up 8-5 and the Eagles celebrated their first state championship.

New Ulm got off to a fast start, scoring four runs in the top of the first. There, Kannegiesser started the scoring with a double in the first that scored Gareis and Hoffmann doubled to score another run. Schneider also added an RBI single for the 4-0 lead.

After the Huskies scored three runs in the third, they tied the game in the fourth and went ahead 5-4 in the fifth.

In the seventh, Katie Forst had an RBI single that scored Abby Kamm to tie the game.

Kannegiesser pitched 7 2/3 innings and allowed two earned runs. Hoffmann was 2 for 4 with four RBIs and two runs scored and Forst had two hits. Schneider was 3 for 4 with an RBI.

2013 (23-3)

The challenge to repeat was a tough one for the Eagles in 2013. They returned a different nucleus, led by Hoffmann and ace Sydney Schuck, who was a different style of pitcher than Kannegiesser was. The Eagles had a new catcher in Kali Denn.

“Two completely different pitchers,” Nelsen said. “Kelsy Kannegiesser, you obviously had that insane speed and riseball where Sydney also had the speed but definitely switched it up with her pitches a lot and utilized that changeup quite a bit and fooled a lot of people.”

“That was a completely different year for us,” Sieve said. “Coming in with Sydney, who was just gunning and pitching and doing her thing, but also random little changes in the infield and outfield, of course. We never expected to kind of come out and do what we did. We thought of it as a whole different year, how do we do this, how do we repeat this? I think we just call just came on the same page and made it happen.

“I felt like with this new team, we brought this whole different aspect that was different, but yet similar to the year before, but it was just an amazing time,” Sieve said.

Andersen Loose said that having a whole new battery was a challenge, but they made it work.

“The thing that was incredible is that we had two different battery,” she said. “I wanted to go back and look at the back-to-back state championship wins and see how many had a different battery, I’m willing to bet that there’s not any.”

In the first state tournament game, the Eagles rolled all over Maple River with a 12-0, five-inning victory. In that game, New Ulm avenged an early-season loss to Maple River, the Section 2AA champions, by scoring five runs in the first inning. That was more than Schuck needed.

Schuck allowed one hit and struck out four. Hoffmann went 3 for 4 with four RBIs and Sarah Nelsen also hit a home run. Schuck and Katie Forst also added a pair of hits.

In the semifinals, the Eagles crushed Rockford 10-4. There, Schuck held Rockford hitless until the fifth inning. She struck out five and allowed one hit.

The Eagles scored two runs in the bottom of the first and second innings, then scored five runs in the third. Ellie Scheider was 3 for 4 with two runs scored and Hoffmann was 2 for 4 with three runs scored and two RBIs. Kali Denn and Nelsen each had two RBIs.

In the championship game, New Ulm completed the repeat mission with a 1-0 win over Kasson-Mantorville. There, Schuck delivered an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth that scored courtesy runner Bergan Forst. Schuck went the distance and allowed five hits. Denn had a double and Abby Kamm had two hits.

As an assistant coach now, Sieve is hoping to duplicate the state title run in a different role.

“It’s obviously unforgettable, I’m never going to forget it,” Sieve said. “I love the program too much to ever forget about it and I just think it was so beneficial for our team who had been through the wringer of getting to the section championship and not getting it, but it was so important and I think New Ulm kind of needed it, our softball team needed it.”

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