NORTH MANKATO -- Gabby 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, 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, and the Flying Dutchmen emerged with a 5-1 victory over the second-ranked team in the state Class A high school softball tournament.
The semifinal victory at Caswell Park in North Mankato sent E/SWC -- participating in its sixth state tournament in a row -- into the championship game today at 2:30 p.m. The Dutchmen will play Badger-Greenbush-Middle River, which upset the tournament’s No. 1 seed, New York Mills, 8-4 in the other semifinal contest on Thursday.
The Dutchmen beat New Ulm Cathedral 6-2 in the quarterfinals. A rundown of E/SWC’s two games on the first day of the tourney:
New Ulm Cathedral got the early jump as senior outfielder Lauryn Franta smacked a two-out, two-run home run off Edgerton/Southwest Christian pitcher 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.
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 Hannah 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.”