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Wins, not stats: Worthington 18U softball team looks well-positioned for state tournament competition

The Worthington 18U girls fast-pitch softball team is ready for the state tournament this weekend. They defeated Jackson Silver in a doubleheader on Thursday.

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Worthington Storm's Hannah Kazemba is congratulated after scoring a run by Hannah McNab (11) during a 18U girls fast-pitch softball game with Jackson Silver at Centennial softball field in Worthington Thursday evening 07 22 21. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington 18U Storm girls fast-pitch softball team isn’t hung up on statistics, so when head coach Rachel Ponto tried to pin down the team’s summer record Thursday night after a doubleheader sweep of Jackson Silver, she needed help from her players.

They settled on 9-5-2. Did they have one draw or two? Two, it was agreed.

Likewise, after their powerful cleanup hitter, Faith Kazemba, belted two home runs on the night at Centennial Field -- one in the first game and another in the second game -- she was asked how many she’d hit this year.

She said she didn’t know. Coach Ponto helped her count them. Five. Five homers, they agreed.

The local 18U’s are a well-oiled machine, and that much was evident in the team’s 9-3 and 16-2 wins over Jackson Silver -- the first game in four innings and the second game in five. Ponto had said earlier in the summer that she hardly needs to coach the girls. They know what to do, they do it, and they have each others’ backs every step of the way.

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Now, it’s state tournament time. The Worthingtonians are ready for their big showdowns coming today and Sunday at Waite Park, where they open with a 10:30 Saturday morning contest against Springfield. It’s a double-elimination format.

“We’re hoping to make it to the second day. There’s gonna be some good teams. I don’t think there’s any team we can’t compete with,” Ponto said. “We’re motivated. They wanna go. They want to do good. They all have each other’s backs, and we have fun. Win or lose, we have fun.”

Worthington had to recover from a 3-2 deficit in the first game against Jackson on Thursday after the Silver’s Zoe Kaderabick tripled and scored on a wild pitch in the top of the third inning.

The locals answered quickly with four runs in the bottom of the third, highlighted by a one-out two-run home run over the left field fence by Kazemba. Then in the fourth, three more Worthington runs crossed the plate, and the big blow was an inside-the-park home run by speedy leadoff hitter Hannah McNab.

Run-scoring singles by Bailey Ponto and Kazemba finished the scoring.

Hannah Kazemba, in relief of starter Taylor Ponto, was the winning pitcher.

In the second game, Worthington never trailed. Four runs scored in the first inning as the locals’ aggressive, intelligent base-running paid dividends. Kazemba’s second homer of the day came in the third inning when she pounced on a high pitch on the inside part of the plate to send it over the fence near the left-field foul pole.

There were other solid hits. Madeline Pedersen hit a double off the fence into the left-center field gap in the fifth, and Taylor Ponto scored her on a scorching single. Still in the fifth, Mercedes Myers doubled. It was a nine-run inning.

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Faith Kazemba, besides showing her power at the plate, was the winning pitcher in a route-going performance.

She bats both left and right, sometimes moving from one side to the other in a single at bat. But it’s from the right where she derives her power, and that’s the side from where she poked her second home run of the day.

After the game, she was asked about how she was able to take that high pitch over the fence -- and, most of all, why she went for it.

“It looked like a good pitch, so I swung,” she replied.

Coach Ponto helped her out. “She could put her bat on anything,” she said.

“But just not lefty,” Kazemba interjected.

The Worthington 18U team is an eclectic bunch, and it gets its juice from veterans like Kazemba and youngsters like 14-year-old Bailey Ponto. But Ponto isn’t the youngest on the team. A third Kazemba is 12-year-old Rachel, who plays on the 12U team and the 14U team, and even on the 18U team when they’re short for players. She was recently used on the 18U squad, in fact, for a pinch runner.

Rachel was with the 18U outfit on Thursday, though she didn’t need to play. But if she had, she would have definitely been noticed. She claims to be 5-foot tall. That might be pushing it, though.

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Jackson Silver pitcher Brooklyn Stenzel throws a pitch during a 18U girls fast-pitch softball game with host Worthington Storm at Centennial softball field Thursday evening 07 22 21. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

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