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Dutchmen to play for state softball crown

NORTH MANKATO -- Gabby Buckridge and Chynna Berning are sort of a Mantle and Maris one-two punch for the Edgerton/Southwest Christian girls fast-pitch softball team. No, they’re not as famous. But a person could argue they get the job done just as efficiently as the M and M boys once did.

On Thursday in the semifinals of the Minnesota state Class A tournament at Caswell Park in North Mankato, the Flying Dutchmen and the New Ulm Cathedral Greyhounds were tied 1-1 before Buckridge drilled a one-out liner past second base to get the Dutch back in business in the bottom of the fifth. Berning followed with a hard RBI triple past second base. That made the score 2-1, and the Dutchmen never looked back, winning 5-1 to gain a spot in the championship game today (Friday).

Edgerton/Southwest Christian, which won the state tournament in 2016 and finished second in 2017, wants to get first place again. With Buckridge (who went 4-for-4 against Cathedral after going 3-for-3 in Thursday’s first win over Sebeka) and Berning hitting back-to-back, E/SWC always has a chance.

Buckridge, just a sophomore, loves having the senior slugger Berning batting behind her.

“We get along very well. We’re very good friends,” said Buckridge. “I know she will back me up whenever I get on base. She’ll advance me. She drives me home half the time. That’s great.”

Edgerton/Southwest Christian (20-3), which beat New Ulm Cathedral 5-2 in the regular season this year, will play for the Class A championship at 2:30 p.m. on Friday against No. 1 seed New York Mills -- which defeated E/SWC in last year’s title game. The Dutchmen are seeded No. 2 in this year’s tournament.

Head coach Andrew Fleischman said his Dutchmen were “tight” in last year’s championship game. The key for this year’s title game, he said, is to play loose and enjoy the experience.

“We just need to play free and easy tomorrow,” he said shortly after the semifinal win. “We didn’t do that last year. … I just want everybody to enjoy it.”

The veteran coach agreed that Buckridge and Berning are quite a pair.

“I’m really proud of Gabby,” he maintained. “She’s hitting the heck out of the ball right now. And in these playoff games (state tournament) she’s 7-for-7. She’s really doing a great job for us. I’m proud of Chynna coming through tonight.”

New Ulm drew first blood Thursday night in the top of the first inning with a Rose Hazuka RBI single off E/SWC pitcher Sierra Van Dyke, who also pitched and won the Dutchmen’s first game of the day. The Dutch answered with a run in the bottom of the third as Buckridge slapped a hard line drive past second base, Berning followed with a single, and Liz Prins lined off pitcher Josie Pautzke’s leg, who got the out at first as the two baserunners advanced to second and third. Hannah Nerem singled home the run.

In the fifth, after Berning’s go-ahead triple, the Dutchmen scored twice more aided by an infield error, a double steal and an easy pop up that fell behind second base. An insurance run scored in the sixth as Buckridge delivered a one-out double and Prins brought her home with a single.

Van Dyke finished with a four-hitter. She struck out six.

Later, Buckridge said she’s happy to get another crack at New York Mills.

“We played them last year in the state championship and we lost to them. But if we play the way we played in this game, I think we have a chance. If we attack, we have a chance,” she said.

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E/SWC 001 031 x -- 5 12 1