Pipestone Area sixth at Class AA state softball tournament

Perhaps this time around the would have, could have, and should haves will stick in their minds more than they have in years past. But make no mistake, Pipestone Area belonged at the 2022 Class AA state softball tournament June 9-10 at Caswell Park in North Mankato.

The returning Section 3AA champion Arrows, which concluded their season at 16-11 following a 6-5 loss to defending state champion LeSueur-Henderson in the consolation semifinals Friday morning in North Mankato, were in the thick of it from the get-go.

A one-run loss (7-6) to top-seeded Proctor in the championship quarterfinals Thursday morning dropped the Arrows into the consolation bracket of the tournament. Unseeded PAS battled back with a one-run victory (5-4) over fifth-seeded St. Cloud Cathedral Thursday night, but couldn’t quite play as neat a game as it needed to against the Giants to secure the consolation trophy the following morning.

“Hats off to our kids, I thought they fought hard all weekend,” Pipestone Area head coach Troy Bouman said following the tournament. “You have to play clean up here to win it all and we didn’t play clean by any means, but we kept battling and giving ourselves chances to win games. To be down here (Friday) in the seventh, come back and tie it, what more do you want? A play here or there is the difference in the game and we just didn’t make enough plays this weekend to be where we wanted to be.”

And, of course, that was in the championship game, where third-seeded Chatfield claimed a narrow 3-2 victory over Proctor.

“It’s hard up here and most people don’t understand just how hard it is,” Bouman said. “You see a lot of errors on a lot of fields, a lot of pressure on kids, and I think our kids handled that extremely well. I’m so proud of these kids. 

“They really could be playing for a championship. We say you come up here and you gotta play well, No. 1, and you have to have some luck go your way. You look at Proctor right now; we drop three fly balls and they beat us in the last inning. You have to make the plays at the right times … what it’s time all about.”

And it was Teagan Graham’s single to center field that proved the right play at the right time in the consolation finals, as the Giants’ right fielder plated courtesy runner Anyssa Christ from second base with her walk-off effort to end the Arrows’ hopes of completing a comeback.

“I just told them, ‘Hang in there, it doesn’t have to be perfect … just need one when we need you get it,’ and fortunately they did,” LS-H head coach Eric Lewis said. “It wasn’t clean, but we got a couple hits in a timely fashion.”

The Giants took advantage of a pair of walks issued by PAS starter Mariah Moeller (2 inn., 2ER, 3H, 2K, 3W) and a timely hit by her counterpart Chole Brandt (2ER, 5H, 8K, 2W) to snatch an early lead in the bottom of the first inning. 

But the Giants couldn’t play clean behind Brandt in the top of the second, allowing the Arrows to tally a trio of runs on two hits and two defensive errors. PAS junior shortstop Kyla Hubbling (HBP) scampered all the way around the diamond off a throwing miscue on Madelyn Wiese’s ensuing sacrifice bunt. Wiese scored moments later on Melody Remund’s RBI single to left, and the PAS catcher’s courtesy runner Kasya Douty also crossed the plate in the frame – dashing around third base and scooting home on Toryn Woelber’s booming double to left-center field.

The Giants managed to whittle the Arrows 3-1 lead down to a lone marker in the bottom of the inning, via a home run blast by Brynn Biedscheid, but neither side proved able to push anything across the plate over the ensuing two frames.

The Arrows capitalized on a one-out walk issued to Marli Taubert in the top of the fifth. The senior second baseman advanced to second base when first baseman Kayla Hubbling was struck by a Brandt offering. Pinch runner Mylee Weber did the rest, claiming the plate on an errant throw by the LS-H infield – lifting the Arrows to a 4-2 lead. Unfortunately for the Arrows, they would commit two costly errors in the bottom of the inning to fall behind 5-4 after five complete.

The Giants also scattered three hits over the game against Woelber (4ER, 5H, 1K, 3W), in relief of Moeller since the bottom of the third.  Biedscheid and Madison Wilbright had RBI for the Giants in the explosive frame, leaving PAS a run back heading into the sixth.

Neither team could put a runner on base in the sixth, but Taubert – in what proved to be the last at-bat of her high school softball career – led off the seventh with a deep double to left field. Kyla Hubbling followed with a hard-hit single through the left side of the LS-H defense, and the Arrows were back in it, tied at 6-all.

“It felt good; I wanted to get a hit in my last at bat and I scored the last run of our season,” Taubert said. 

The last run of the Arrows’ 2022 campaign as Christ claimed the plate moments later on Graham’s walk-off.

The game was also the last for role player Jamie Drey, who stepped in as a pinch hitter for the Arrows in the top of the sixth. 

“I was a little nervous and it didn’t go the way I wanted it to, she got me on that change(-up), but an at-bat is and at-bat, and I didn’t just go down 1-2-3,” said Drey, who fouled several Brandt pitches off before being struck out.

“No one thought we’d be here, so to come up here and compete is something good. We had great upperclassmen last year and great lower classmen this year, it’s been a great team and a great group to be with.”

Sentiment shared by the coaches and PAS faithful.

“Where we were at the first part of the season up to now is a totally different thing, we’ve improved so much and it’s just a great group of kids to be around,” Bouman said. “I’m so proud of this group.”

The Arrows’ ability to play clean certainly proved the difference in their tight consolation semifinal victory over the Crusaders Thursday night. Of the five runs the Arrows totaled, just one was earned against St. Cloud hurler Ella Voit. 

Still, Pipestone Area had nine hits in the tilt, including three in their three-run fifth that accounted for the winning margin.

“In a game like this one it’s hard because they’re in the same situation as us, coming off a hard defeat; it’s hard to get that adrenaline going,” PAS coach Robert Petersen said. “‘Yes, we want to win,’ but there’s still knowing, in the back of their minds, they can’t reach the ultimate goal. You have to dig deep inside to live to play another day, and they found a way to do it.”’

After watching St. Cloud take a 4-2 lead on three hits in the top of the fifth, the Arrows struck back with hits from Kayla Hubbling, Kyla Hubbling, Wiese (RBI) and Brynn Manzey and an RBI sacrifice by Remund.

“We stayed calm; I was really calm because we had the heart of the order coming up,” Petersen said. “The girls are seeing the ball well, and I said, ‘I think this is going to be fine.’ We had the heart of the order coming up and things went well; we squared balls up and put the ball in play. Credit to the kids, they found a way to win.”’

A change in delivery, coming through a change of pitchers – Woelber in for Moeller – kept the Crusaders off balance the rest of the way. St. Cloud couldn’t put a runner on base in either the sixth nor the seventh, and the Hubbling twins completed a 6-3 putout with Kailee Falconer at the plate to secure the Arrows’ advancement to the consolation championship contest.

“It’s a very tight tournament; the team we were beaten by in a walk-off ended up winning 2-1 in 12 innings,” Petersen said. “We’re seeing the ball well, we’re hitting the ball well, it’s just a matter of a few breaks here and there. We’re good enough to win this, but sometimes you need some breaks.”

The Arrows received a break via a defensive error in the early stages of Thursday night’s game, scoring one run on one hit in the bottom of the first. Taubert, who singled to left field with one out, moved to second base on an error with Kayla Hubbling at the plate and scored moments later on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Kyla Hubbling.

St. Cloud managed to knot the score at 1-all in the top of the second only to see the Arrows recoup the marker in the bottom of the third inning. Again, Remund’s RBI sacrifice on the back of two Crusader errors proved decisive.

Taubert and Manzey finished with two hits apiece for the Arrows, while Woelber, Wiese (RBI), Kayla Hubbling, Kyla Hubbling and Jadyn Kor had a hit apiece. 

First-game nerves were evident in both dugouts Thursday morning in the championship quarterfinals, as five errors were committed between the Arrows and top-seeded Proctor Rails over seven frames. 

The Rails booted the ball around early, allowing the Arrows to scratch out two runs in the first and another four in the third to take a 6-2 lead into the fourth inning. Kyla Hubbling had the lone RBI in the opening frame, while Woelber (RBI), Wiese and Kyla Hubbling (RBI) had key base hits in the third.

Although Proctor managed to knot the score at 2-all after one complete frame, it wasn’t until the fourth that the Rails would climb back into the tilt.

Two PAS fielding errors, combined with a hit from Sophia Parendo, allowed the Rails to whittle the deficit down to two runs at 4-6. And seizing the momentum, the Rails promptly made it a one-run game in the fifth. 

A lead-off double off the bat of Preslie Annala not only put Proctor in prime position to trim the Arrows lead again, but also it signaled the end of Moeller’s (4 inn., 3ER, 7H, 4K, 2W), tenure in the circle. Anika Burke drove in  Annala from third base with a shot through the left side of the PAS defense, and the Rails trailed 5-6.

Despite having knocked Proctor hurler Madison Walsh around for six hits over six frames, the Arrows came up empty in the top of the seventh. And with momentum squarely on in their camp, Proctor comfortably moved runners around the bags to plate two runs on four hits in the bottom of the inning – including Parendo’s walk-off single through the right side.

“I think it just comes down to doing the little things right, making the plays when you need to make the plays, getting the hits when you need to get hits, and we just didn’t get enough of them,” said Taubert, who was teary-eyed at tournament’s end. 

“Yeah, I’m happy to end my career with a hit against LeSueur, but I’m sad too. This team just feels like family. It doesn’t matter who it is, you can talk to them, hang out with them, have a good time … all the bus rides, hotels, team suppers, that’s what’s the most fun. Getting to play with them is fun and I’m grateful for the time I’ve had playing on this team with them.”

A team that should return all save two players to the diamond next spring. And coaches Bouman and Petersen are hoping the 2023 Arrows will come into the season having done the necessary work to prepare for another state tournament run.

“Looking back at this spring, we need to get off to a better start next year – beginning with the summer and fall,” Bouman said. “The girls could benefit from getting in the weight room and getting stronger. That helps with self-confidence and getting ready to go, that and – not necessarily play all summer long – but getting some individual work in. I think that’s something kids these days don’t do enough; it’s become all about games. You have to put in a little time working on the mental stuff and working on your game anyway possible. Hopefully they’ll get a couple games or tournaments in, but if they don’t as long as they’re working on their game, I’m happy about that.”

PAS                  030 010 1 – 5 5 4

LeSueur-H    110 030 1 – 6 8 4

SCC                 010 030 0 – 4 7 5

PAS                 101 030 X – 5 9 0

PAS                  204 000 0 – 6 6 2

Proctor        200 210 2 – 7 14 3