Highs and lows

Eagles stay alive in 2AAA tourney

NORTH MANKATO — The bad news for New Ulm was that Saturday was not the typical display of softball the No. 2-ranked Eagles have shown this season.

The good news is the Eagles did enough to stay alive in the Section 2AAA Softball Tournament.

No. 2-seeded Mankato East cruised to a 10-0 win in five innings over top-seeded New Ulm in the winner’s bracket semifinals at Caswell Park, clinching a section finals appearance for the Cougars this Thursday. Earlier in the day, however, New Ulm got some late-game heroics to pull out a 1-0 win over fourth-seeded Marshall to advance to that semifinals game with East.

In the 1-0 win over Marshall, the Eagles got their first and only hit of the game in the bottom of the seventh on a single to right by Maddie Backer. After a stolen base, a sac bunt by Kenzie Enter moved Backer to third, setting up a squeeze bunt attempt by Ramsey Hopp. Hopp’s bunt popped up into the air and was jabbed at by the Marshall shortstop for an error, allowing Backer to score the game-winning run and send the Eagles into a frenzy.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, their excitement was short-lived as the Cougars scored at least one run in every inning on the way to the five-inning semifinals win.

Saturday’s game with East was vastly different from earlier in the season when the Eagles earned a 4-2 win over the Cougars in Mankato on April 15.

“I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it just wasn’t Eagles softball,” New Ulm head coach Kristi Andersen Loose said after Saturday’s loss to East. “The energy was there, the headspace was good in the dugout, the girls were supporting each other down to the very last out. But there was just something intangible that we’ve kind of got to put our finger on that we just didn’t have it on defense today and let too many balls hit the grass. They hit hard, I guess.”

The Eagles did turn in a share of solid defensive plays against Marshall. Perhaps the biggest defensive play for New Ulm in that game came with two outs in the top of the seventh when Amber Lee made a running grab in left field to save a run. The Eagles struggled to turn in those big plays on defense against the Cougars, however, and had two errors.

Hopp earned the complete-game shutout over Marshall with five hits allowed and five strikeouts.

Bjella took the loss for Marshall, striking out 11 and allowing just that one unearned run in the seventh. Marshall won its second game of the day in elimination play with a 12-0 win over Mankato West, setting the stage for a win-or-gome home rematch against New Ulm at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Caswell Park.

Hopp gave up 10 hits and three walks for five earned runs in five innings in the loss to East.

“Ramsey couldn’t get into groove today,” Andersen Loose said. “She didn’t throw her best game against Marshall either. She just couldn’t get in her groove. We’ll see a new kid on Tuesday, we’ll see a new kid on Thursday, I know it. I haven’t seen that Ramsey all year and I know she’s strong enough, coachable enough that she’ll adjust.”

East took a 1-0 lead on a solo homer to right by junior pitcher Kylinn Stangl, who is committed to play softball at the University of Minnesota following her time at East. Stangl gave up just one hit to the Eagles on Saturday, a single off the fence in center by Hopp in the first inning.

A wild pitch scored another run for East in the second before the Cougars got a two-run single by Jayda Swalve to go up 4-0 in the third. Four hits and an error helped East go up 8-0 in the fourth before another error and a hit in the fifth gave East its 10-0 lead.

The Eagles, 18-4, can earn a rematch with East on Thursday if they can defeat Marshall (18-7) for the fourth time this season on Tuesday. New Ulm topped Marshall 3-0 at home on April 18 and then won 3-1 in Marshall on May 14 before Saturday’s win in North Mankato.

Whichever team wins Tuesday will then have to defeat East twice on Thursday at Caswell Park to advance to the state tourney. The Cougars need just one win Thursday to return to state for the second year in a row after winning the Class AAA state title last season.


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