Mustangs look to repeat as adapted softball champions

Anoka-Hennepin has won seven state championships in three different adapted sports since 2010, but anybody who thinks the Mustangs are in danger of becoming complacent can think again.

The Anoka-Hennepin Mustangs have a perfect 9-0 record going in to the state adapted softball tournament this afternoon. The Mustangs return 10 players from last year’s championship team. Photo courtesy of Anoka-Hennepin Mustangs

The Anoka-Hennepin Mustangs have a perfect 9-0 record going in to the state adapted softball tournament this afternoon. The Mustangs return 10 players from last year’s championship team. Photo courtesy of Anoka-Hennepin Mustangs

The Mustangs, who will seek a third consecutive CI Division championship at the state adapted softball tournament Friday and Saturday at Coon Rapids High School, are driven – not only to succeed, but to honor a former teammate. Lacie Bickford, a member of last year’s Anoka-Hennepin state championship softball team, died unexpectedly last summer, and Mustangs teams in softball, soccer and floor hockey dedicated their seasons to her.

“We had our awards ceremony last week and one of our seniors, Tyler Kurkowski, asked if he could say something,” coach Ted Johnson said. “This is the last tournament he’s going to play in, but he talked about what it would mean if we could win it for Lacie.”

The Mustangs, who had a perfect 11-0 record on their way to the 2011 state championship, also are undefeated going into this year’s tourney. They won all nine of their regular season games by at least seven runs. They return 10 players from last year’s team, including all-tournament selections Kurkowski and Zach Theroux.

Anoka-Hennepin is going for a sweep of the CI Division championships in the three adapted sports sanctioned by the Minnesota State High School League. The Mustangs also won all three tournaments in the 2010-11 school year.

“Probably 90 percent of the kids play all three sports,” said Johnson, who also coaches the Mustangs’ CI Division adapted soccer team. “In softball, these are kids who really understand the game. Prior to this group, a lot of years we’d spend an awful lot of time working on skills. With this group, we can spend more time on strategy.”

The softball team’s games could have been even more one-sided except that the Mustangs typically allowed all 24 of their players to bat, which state adapted sports rules allow. That meant Anoka-Hennepin’s top players seldom had more than a couple of plate appearances in a game.

The Mustangs have not used that approach in a state tournament game, but Johnson said the team will use substitution and re-entry rules to make sure most if not all of the players get on the field during state.

Anoka-Hennepin is the top seed from the North Conference at state and will play Chaska/Chanhassen/Prior Lake/Shakopee (5-4), the South Conference’s fourth seed, in a quarterfinal game at 4 p.m. Friday. It’s a rematch of last year’s state final, won by the Mustangs 14-2.

Other first-round games Friday are South Washington County (8-1) versus Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville (7-2) at 5:30 p.m., Osseo (9-1) versus Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville (7-2) at 7 and Dakota United (9-0) at 7. Dakota United is the top seed from the South Conference.

CI Division semifinal games are scheduled for noon Saturday, with the championship game at 3:15 p.m.

Students from Anoka, Andover, Blaine, Coon Rapids and Champlin Park make up the Anoka-Hennepin adapted sports cooperative.

PI Division

The PI Division state adapted softball tournament also is at Coon Rapids High School this weekend. Three-time defending state champion Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka is the top seed from the North Conference.

Anoka-Hennepin (4-5) qualified for the PI Division tourney as the North Conference’s No. 4 seed. The Mustangs will play undefeated Dakota United (9-0), the South Conference’s top seed, in the quarterfinals at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

Other quarterfinal matchups Friday have Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka (7-1) versus South Suburban (5-4) at 4 p.m., Minneapolis South (4-4) versus Wayzata/Minnetonka (4-4) at 4 and Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville (4-4) versus St. Paul Humboldt (4-3) at 5:30. Semifinal games are 10:30 a.m. Saturday and the championship game will be 1:45 p.m.

Mike Shaughnessy is at mike.shaughnessy@ecm-inc.com

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