State Class A softball: Dutchmen Top it off with a win
NORTH MANKATO — A pitcher’s duel was almost a guarantee Friday in the Class 3A third-place game.
Something had to give.
Though neither pitcher disappointed, the day belonged to Top. The junior fireballer struck out 11 and allowed just three hits as she led her team to a 1-0 victory to take third in the Flying Dutchmen’s first ever appearance at the state tournament.
“I just felt good,” Top said. “It was warm outside and I was getting a lot of snap on the ball. (The home plate umpire) was giving me the inside corner and I like that pitch, so I was really trying to work that. I was able to mix in my drop ball and some changeups and I was getting good movement. It felt good.”
“I can’t say enough about how well she pitched,” E/SWC coach Andrew Fleischman said. “She threw awesome. She was throwing all of her pitches for strikes and was getting great snap and movement on the ball. The infield played a really awesome game behind her, too. It was a lot of fun.”
E/SWC was the first — and eventually only — team to break through. Tanner Gunnink belted a leadoff single up the middle in the second before Top joined pinch runner Kjersten Sankey when she reached on an error. Both runners moved up 60 feet on a wild pitch before Kameron Kroh hit a ground ball to the right side that allowed Sankey to sprint home from third.
“It’s a different game when you have that 1-0 lead, so that was huge,” Fleischman said. “Then suddenly they start putting a little pressure on themselves and we can relax a little bit.”
Meanwhile, Top was electric in the circle. She allowed only one hit and struck out seven through the first four innings, including a string of 13 consecutive retired batters.
That run ended with two outs in the top of the fifth when the Tigers put together a threat. Mikala Kowarsch blooped a two-out single to shallow center and moved up to second on a wild pitch. Joely Roberts legged out an infield single to keep the inning alive, but Top got her team out of the inning with her eighth strikeout of the afternoon.
“We knew we had to come out and play our best to win,” Top said. “We knew we had to hold them and our defense was tremendous. I’ve always said, that makes pitching easy for me when my defense is playing so well behind me.”
Top was on-point all day. She pitched a three-hit shutout, walked no one and struck out 11 for the win. Herring allowed just one unearned run on three hits, struck out seven and walked one in the hard-luck loss for the Tigers.
Gunnink, Savanah Tinklenberg and Courtney Jouwstra had a hit each for the Flying Dutchmen.
E/SWC finished the season with a 22-5 record and does not graduate a single player from the third-place squad.
“I’m just proud to be a part of it,” Top said. “We wanted to do it for Coach Fleischman because he started this program and built this team. It’s been an amazing year and we’ve all just had a blast. We’ve all worked hard so we wanted to do this for each other. That makes it even better, when you want it as bad for each other as you do for yourself.”
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Cherry 000 000 0 – 0 3 1
E/SWC 010 000 x – 1 3 1