JACKSON -- The top-ranked Pipestone Area Arrows took two fast-pitch softball games from host Jackson County Central on Thursday, but when it was all over it was probably the Huskies who had the biggest smiles.
After dropping the opener 11-0 in five innings as Arrows pitcher Jessa Reinert finished off a no-hitter, JCC came dangerously close to handing PA its first loss of the season in a 2-1 decision.
“We were telling ‘em (the JCC players) all season we can do this. And I think for the first time all season they believed us. They believed in themselves and they believed in us,” said JCC head coach Morgan Christopher.
Whereas Pipestone has been mostly dominant this spring, the Huskies have unimpressive. Their record heading into Thursday’s doubleheader was 4-6, and two of the teams they beat were winless beginning this week. None of the Jackson County Central players have ever played varsity before this season (2020 was wiped out by COVID-19), and Christopher said they’re still learning to be winners.
“I believe in these kids,” she said.
“I don’t think they know how good they are yet,” she explained. “Our kids did a great job of bouncing back after that first game. I told ‘em we gotta do better. We can compete better and we gotta do better in that second game.”
Pipestone Area’s only scoring happened in the fourth inning off JCC pitcher Grace Schoenrock, and it was delivered on a two-out, two-run home run by Nicole Pals via a blast over the left-center field fence. Schoenrock, showing good control and a bit of zip on the ball, rarely gave the Arrows a chance to score otherwise.
JCC got its run in the top of the sixth inning off PA speed-thrower Toryn Woelber. Ella Mulder led off with a drag bunt single, advanced to second on a hard single over second base by Alexis O’Reilly, took third on the first out of the inning, then scored on an Alana Freking sacrifice fly to right.
In the top of the seventh, still down by a run, Woelber sent the Huskies down 1-2-3, with the first two outs by strikeout.
The Arrows, as surely as the sun comes up in the West, began the spring season as the Class AA team to watch in southwest Minnesota. They opened the season by winning each one of their first eight games by 10 runs or more. On April 29, they finally ran into a challenge and defeated an outstanding St. James Area team 4-3 and 2-1 in a doubleheader. They followed that with 5-0 and 4-3 victories over perennial Class A power Edgerton/Southwest Christian.
With their double victories over JCC, Pipestone Area ran its record to 14-0.
Ranked No. 1 in Minnesota Class AA, the Arrows are hoping to return to the state tournament again this year after achieving the Big Show in 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2016, 2018 and 2019. They won a championship in 2007 and in 2018 and 2019 finished in third place. There was no spring softball in 2020 because of the coronavirus, but obviously the Arrows haven’t accumulated any rust.
Veteran head coach Troy Bouman, himself a former star fast-pitch player in the men’s ranks, provides the kind of tough, hard-nosed leadership every would-be juggernaut needs. But he said JCC’s near-upset in Game Two didn’t surprise him all that much.
“That’s a softball game. That’s the way it goes,” he said, adding that he wasn’t disappointed in his players. “We played well defensively, we pitched well, we just didn’t get the hits.”
JCC out-hit PA 4-3 in the game.
“(Schoenrock) kept us off-balance. Any pitcher can beat you on any given day,” Bouman said.
Despite their high state ranking -- and Bowman is never one who puts much stock in rankings -- the Arrows return only one starter, Reinert, from two years ago.
“We’re still trying to figure things out,” said the coach.
Perhaps the best thing the Arrows have going for them is their exceptional 1-2 pitching punch. The crafty Reinert has several pitches and she uses all of the plate. Woelber is a pure power pitcher who could be better yet when she develops a change of speed.
But far from calling Thursday’s games a wake-up call, Bouman said it’ll just be an ongoing effort for the Arrows, from here on out, to improve their skills.
“We’ve got a lot of chances to improve a lot. We hit the ball very well early in the season. We’re in a little bit of a funk right now,” he said. “We didn’t hit the way we’d like to today. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
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