NORTH MANKATO -- Confidence is everywhere within the hearts of the Edgerton/Southwest Christian girls fast-pitch softball team.
It comes from a head coach who stresses hard work and never going easy, whether in practice, in the offseason, or in games. It comes from players who expect to win. Why? Because that’s pretty much all they do.
The Flying Dutchmen, who competed in their sixth straight Minnesota Class A softball tournament Thursday and Friday at Caswell Park in North Mankato, played Friday in their fourth straight championship game. They won it for the first time since winning it all in 2016, with a workmanlike 4-1 victory over Badger/Greenbush-Middle River. B/G-MR upset the tournament’s top seed, New York Mills, in the semifinals. E/SWC, the tournament’s No. 3 seed, took care of New Ulm Cathedral 6-2 in the Thursday quarterfinals and eliminated the No. 2 seed, Randolph, 5-1 in their semifinal later that night.
But then, rankings and seedings have never meant much to the Dutch.
“It’s just the hard work we put in,” said shortstop Jazzy Prins, who was named to the Class A All-Tournament team along with teammates third baseman Gabby Buckridge and pitcher Sierra Van Dyke. “The coach wants us to hit every weekend. He says the cage is always open, so a lot of us like to go and hit. We’re from two different schools (Edgerton Public and Southwest Christian), but when we get together it just clicks right away.”
“It just comes from confidence in our practice, and all the time we put into it in the offseason,” said first baseman Hannah Nerem. “It just never seems like it’s a big game, because every game is a big game. We never take the little ones lightly,”
Friday’s game was big, of course. But the Dutchmen went about their business like it was, well … just business. Over the last several years, business has been good.
A rundown of E/SWC’s tournament:E/SWC 6, NU Cathedral 2
New Ulm Cathedral got the early jump as senior outfielder Lauryn Franta smacked a two-out, two-run home run off Sierra Van Dyke in the top of the first inning. Van Dyke walked three hitters in the inning -- the first was picked off before the home run; the third occurred after the homer and was stranded.
The Flying Dutchmen got one run back in the bottom of the first on an RBI single by Mariah Zeinstra.
They broke it open in the fifth. McKenzie Snyder’s bunt single was followed by a Zeinstra double off the base of the left-center field fence. Jessa Nibbelink flew out to shallow center field, keeping the runners on second and third. But senior second baseman Liz Prins, on a 3-2 count, clobbered a three-run homer over the center field fence. Singles by Jazzy Prins and Buckridge started another threat, and with two out Van Dyke belted a two-run double.
Van Dyke, who entered the game with a 16-3 record and a 0.98 earned run average, allowed just three hits in the complete game victory.E/SWC 5, Randolph 1
Buckridge told it true.
“I’ll be honest with you. I was feeling it. I knew it was going to be a hit. I was feeling that energy in the batter’s box,” she said.
With nobody out and teammate Jazzy Prins on first base in the sixth inning of a 1-1 game with the Randolph Rockets in the Thursday night semifinals, the Edgerton/Southwest Christian junior waited on a pitch that came across high in the zone and moving in on the left-handed hitter. Buckridge got all of it, sending it over the right-center field fence for a two-run homer. Randolph was never the same after that.
The Dutchmen’s No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, Prins and Buckridge, have been getting the job done together for a long time. After Prins led off the sixth with a hard single that the Randolph shortstop couldn’t handle, Buckridge knew exactly what to do to keep Prins’ hit from coming to nought.
“We have a special connect, I swear,” Buckridge said later. “Every game I get a helmet for her. I take it out of the bag and I rub it for good luck, and then I give it to her. I just rub my hands on it.”
Buckridge’s eyes got big on the home run pitch.
“It just felt good coming off the bat. I knew we were not going to lose (after it went out). And I hope all of my teammates felt that,” she said.
The shot cleared the fence by quite a ways.
“That ball was still goin’ up as it went out,” exclaimed coach Andrew Fleischman.
The game was scoreless through three innings. E/SWC scored in the top of the fourth after a hard two-out Buckridge single over third base and an opposite-field double by Nerem.
But Randolph answered with a run in the bottom of the inning.
After Buckridge’s two-run blast, the Dutchmen scored another sixth-inning run on an overthrow to first base, which let Addison Fleischman -- who had singled earlier -- run home.
A seventh-inning insurance run came after an infield hit by Liz Prins and a double off the left-center field fence by Jaz Prins, followed by an intentional walk to Buckridge. A bouncer to pitcher was thrown home for a force out, but when a throw to first on the same batted ball was late, a run scored from second.
Van Dyke pitched another excellent game, allowing five hits and just the one run. She received ample praise from Coach Fleischman.
“She has given us a chance to win every single game,” he said. “She settled right in and pitched a great game against two very good teams.”
The game against Randolph was not just excellent for Van Dyke, but for everybody else on the Flying Dutchmen squad, too.
“I told the girls that’s as well as I’ve seen a team play in a high-stakes game against a great team,” Coach Fleischman said. “There was really no phase in the game that we didn’t play well.”Championship E/SWC 4, B/GB-MR 1
The game was a pitcher’s duel between Van Dyke and the Gators’ Mariah Christian until the bottom of the fourth, when the Dutch scored on consecutive RBI doubles by Jaz Prins and Buckridge. Three more runs came home in the fifth as Snyder, Nibbelink, Jaz Prins and Buckridge hit safely.
Badger/Greenbush-Middle River staged a mini-rally in the top of the seventh, scoring one run and bringing the tying run to the plate with two runners on base. But Van Dyke eliminated the last batter on a called strike three.
Van Dyke allowed six hits over seven innings, walking nobody and striking out six. It was one of her typical outstanding performances which, if you’re not careful, you could take for granted.
“I’m just super excited that I got to play my last year with the team that I just played with,” said the senior right-hander.
Coach Fleischman said it seemed to take his Dutchmen a few innings to settle down. But once they did, it was all over.
“I think we were pressing at the plate early, maybe trying to do too much at times. The last two innings we put a lot of pressure on ‘em. We didn’t quite get the big hit to break it open, but they didn’t either. That’s what good teams do.”
Confidence? The Flying Dutchmen had it at the state tournament, and it showed.
“Almost too much, sometimes, it seems like,” said Van Dyke, a sneaky-fast pitcher who changes speeds well and works the corners. “But it’s what always carries us through. We probably come off a little too cocky sometimes. I know we don’t try to.
“Move it around,” she explained of her style. “I don’t want them to get confident out there. So they always work for what they get. I never want to let them get the same thing.”
“She’s level-headed and nothing rattles her. And we rely on her time and time again,” testified Nerem, who let the world in on one more not-so-secret secret -- team togetherness.
“We’re from a real small town.” she said. “But these girls are all friends, even though we go to different schools.”