Section 3AA softball: Pipestone Area rally comes up short
MARSHALL — In a game of rallies and counter-rallies, the New Ulm Eagles defeated (or rather, outlasted) the Pipestone Arrows 13-9 Thursday in Marshall to capture the Section 3AA girls fast-pitch softball championship.
New Ulm, the defending Class AA champion, will live to defend its crown at the state tournament June 5-6 in North Mankato. Pipestone Area, after compiling an impressive 22-2 record following significant graduation losses after the 2013 season, looks to the future after having been eliminated from sectional competition by New Ulm for a second straight year.
“I’m disappointed. But this is a good group of girls,” said senior Kelly Nettik. “We put up nine. What can you say? We never laid down and rolled over. We fought. I’m extra proud of these girls.”
On a sunny and warm Thursday afternoon, New Ulm moved out to a 3-0 lead on the Arrows after scoring two runs in the second inning and another in the third. Pipestone Area got on the scoreboard in the top of the fourth inning with two runs — the big hit coming as a run-producing line drive single through the middle from Megan Remund.
Their lead cut to 3-2, the Eagles erupted for six runs in the bottom of the fourth. An error, a dropped throw at first base and a couple of infield hits contributed to the onslaught and drove PA’s starting pitcher — eighth-grade ace Shelby Bloemendaal — from the mound. Nettik took over with the score already 8-2 and promptly gave up an RBI single before the bleeding was stopped.
At this point the Arrows — who were dropped into the elimination bracket on Saturday, 4-1, by this same New Ulm team — fought back with gusto. They scored twice in the fifth on a two-run single by Nettik. After Nettik sent the Eagles down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the fifth, the Arrows scored thrice more in the sixth on a two-run double by second baseman Kirsten Houg and an RBI single by shortstop Rachel Skyberg.
Now trailing just 9-7, there was a feeling in the air that a Pipestone Area comeback was more than possible. Alas, New Ulm — helped by some loose play in the PA infield — answered with four runs in the bottom of the sixth. The Arrows got two back in the seventh off New Ulm pitcher Tori Botten, but it was too little, too late.
Botten went the distance in the pitchers’ circle, allowing seven Pipestone Area hits in all. The Arrows were probably most dissatisfied with their defense — it had been a team strength — but they committed five errors. Head coach Troy Bouman said that according to his own book, nine of the Eagles’ 13 runs were unearned.
“The biggest thing, we got down 9-2, we didn’t say die. That’s what we talked about, even early in the game — play to the end,” Bouman said.
Early in the game, it looked as if the Arrows might be hard-pressed to score at all. Botten sent Pipestone Area down in order in the first inning, and in the second Tayla Sysavath — after hitting a two-out single — was stranded there. In the third, Botten put the Arrows down in order again.
Skyberg led off the Pipestone Area half of the fourth with an infield hit. That was the inning the Arrows began to take advantage of their opportunities, using the bunt, the slap-hit, and their speed, to put pressure on the New Ulm defense, which finished with four errors of its own.
Despite the loss, the Arrows were able to mix in a few smiles with their tears. Optimism reigns for 2015 because Bouman’s outfit, which was young in 2014, will be much more experienced next fall.
“I’m just so proud we’re here. All through our lineup everybody comes and works hard. It’s all due to hard work and effort,” said Nettik.
“We’re such a young team, and nobody expected this out of us,” testified Bloemendaal. “I’m very proud even though we lost.”
Bouman praised his assistant coaches, which he called the best in the business. And he added, “The girls, what they’ve accomplished, if you told us at the beginning of the year we’d be in the section championship game, we’d have taken that.”
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Pipestone Area 000 223 2 — 9 7 5
New Ulm 021 604 x — 13 10 4