Coon Rapids stood on the softball diamond at Rice Creek Park Thursday afternoon with red Section 7AAA second-place medals as top-seed Maple Grove won the championship game 5-1.
The Cardinals scored in the first inning as junior Shayla Huffman’s lead-off single started the process. She moved up a base on a passed ball followed by a base hit to reach third base. Kate Fredrickson drove in Huffman on a fielder’s choice.
Combine that with Cardinals senior pitcher Allie Hable’s ability to frustrate the Crimson batters, and Coon Rapids appeared to be on its way to top Maple Grove for the first time in three previous meetings, losing 5-1 and 5-4 in eight innings before a 6-1 game earlier in sections.
“They got one-bloop hits, they kept coming, we bobbled a ball or two, and it’s always one inning or it seems like it, not to discredit them,” coach Jami Holoien said about the tough luck the Cardinals had facing the Crimson this spring.
Coon Rapids loaded the bases in the second and fourth innings but couldn’t bring any more runs across home plate.
“We started off really good and confident, and they were starting to get down, and tried to use that to our advantage,” Hable said. “But that wasn’t in the cards.”
Hable and Fredrickson, the Cardinals pitching and catching battery for four years, have played together since both were 10 years old, so they knew how to manage the Crimson line-up.
Fredrickson made some huge plays behind the plate, diving to catch a short pop-fly that barely left the batter’s box. She went full-out on another foul ball and had the ball bounce out of her glove in front of the Cardinals dugout. She also protected the plate and made a tag in the fifth inning.
“We hit the ball hard a couple of times and they made great plays on them,” Holoien said.
That included a double-play to get out of a jam and end a Cardinals rally.
The plan against a dominant pitcher like Crimson sophomore ace pitcher Sydney Smith was to be patient.
“She was nervous in a section final,” Maple Grove coach Jim Koltes said about Smith. “And next thing you know, they’ve got runners all over the place, and we worked out of a few jams and that helped us huge. They could’ve been up four or five runs on us.”
Coon Rapids had 11, 12 and 11 strikeouts in the three previous games, so waiting for a hitable pitch was the first key for the Cardinals bats.
“And today we had four strike outs so we did a better job of checking the ball and pitch selection and we drew more walks,” Holoien said.
Finally, the Crimson put together a few hits and translated that into a four-run fifth inning to take the lead for good.
“Hable was on. She was eating us up, and we didn’t have an answer for it,” Koltes said. “We’ve had some good opponents, but it’s been hitting in one inning that did it for us.”
Hable said the team remembered the 5-4 loss in eight innings and used that as extra motivation with so much on the line Thursday afternoon.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game, but we knew if we played like we could that we would play a second game,” Hable said.
Coming back through the lose-and-out round was tough for the Cardinals, but they persevered, beginning with a 7-2 win against Centennial, then a 7-1 win against Champlin Park to set up a meeting with Irondale May 28. The Cardinals won 3-2, leading 2-0 going into the final inning. “We made the plays and they didn’t tie it up,” Hable said.
“We beat some good teams to get here and played some good ball.”
Holoien spoke of how much of an impact her team had left on the program and the coaching staff. “I’m really proud of this team,” she said. “We came ready to play and respected the game and ourselves and represented the school well. I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”
Andover’s season came to an end with a 4-3 loss to Duluth East May 29.
The fifth-seeded Huskies (13-10) averaged more than seven runs in the previous three section games but couldn’t reproduce that kind of production against the No. 7 seed Duluth East squad.
Huskies coach Connie Huberty said her squad couldn’t catch a break on and off the field.
“We had two hits and one walk all game, and we had some kind of weird stuff happen,” she said.
This was compounded by a late bus at the school and traffic congestion on I-35.
Andover was within three wins of the section title, its furthest in program history, another point that made the season a very productive one for Huberty.
The Huskies reached the quarterfinals before top-seed Forest Lake picked up a 16-8 victory, sending Andover to the one-loss portion of the bracket.
The Huskies rebounded with a 10-3 win against Chisago Lakes but couldn’t carry over that offensive output against Duluth East.
“We graduate four seniors and three starters,” she said. “It’s going to be tough to replace people who have been on varsity for four years, like Paige Dale and Rebecca Burlingame.”
Senior infielder Krista Flanagan is the other veteran to be replaced next season.
Anoka’s hopes of battling back from an opening-round loss to win the Section 7AAA title were dashed as top-seed Forest Lake beat the third-seeded Tornadoes 6-1 in the title game in Chisago Lakes May 30.
Anoka opened the tournament with a 15-6 win against No. 6 Chisago Lakes followed by a 5-0 win against No. 7 Duluth East to set up its first meeting with the Rangers.
Forest Lake pounded the Tornadoes 10-5 to secure its place in the title game, while Anoka beat Duluth East for a second time, 10-3, to once again face the Rangers, this time needing to win twice to capture the section title.