Anoka’s varsity softball team isn’t ready to call it a season. The Tornadoes beat No. 2 Forest Lake 10-3 to win the Section 7AAA title and the program’s first trip to the state softball tournament.
Earning the top seed in sections a was a big goal for the Tornadoes, but reaching that spot without a loss only added to the confidence after so many trips to the final with one loss in the double-elimination situation.
“The thrill leading up to the last out was almost unbearable,” Tornadoes coach Toni Jesinoski said after qualifying for her first state tournament as a coach or player. “I was so excited and nervous at the same time.”
Growing up in Browerville, Jesinoski was never part of a state team in basketball or softball but reached the section final in both sports as a senior.
Anoka scored seven runs in the first three innings to set the tone in what would be an overwhelming deficit for the Rangers, keyed by a pair of home runs by senior Megan Lindenfelser in the first and sixth innings. She went 3-for-3 with 4 RBIs and scored a team-high three runs.
One day earlier, she pitched the Tornadoes to a 3-2 win against Elk River in the championship semifinal. The Elks couldn’t recover in the elimination game against Forest Lake for the right to face Anoka in the title game the next day.
Lindenfelser returned to the pitching circle in the clinching game to give up three runs over seven innings. She struck out nine, walked one and scattered six hits.
Morgan Paaverud added a third-inning home run to give Anoka three long-bombs in the game.
Run-scoring doubles by Alyssa Wicks and senior catcher Dayja Rosario only added to the pressure on the Rangers in the second inning.
Shortstop Amber Elliott also had three hits and Taylor Chell went 2-for-4 with two runs.
Lindenfelser faced her biggest test in the seventh inning against Elk River. She gave up one run on seven hits in seven innings of work for the well-earned victory.
Elk singles loaded the bases to start the seventh inning but Morgan Zimmer made a heads-up play to throw-out the tying run at home to preserve the lead.
Lindenfelser struck out the next two batters to get out of the dangerous situation.
“To beat Elk River a third time was huge for our girls,” Jesinoski said, knowing that beating the same team three times in a season is awfully difficult, no matter the sport. “I attribute the win to our desire to get to the finals without a loss.”
Anoka scored first when Paaverud drove in Zimmer on a fielder’s choice ground out to first base in the bottom of the first inning.
Elk River sophomore Jayme Langbehn tied the game at 1-1 with a lead-off home run to start the second inning.
Between innings Jesinoski asked the team to stay focused, be aggressive at the plate and have fun. “I reminded them all game that they have worked hard for this moment,” she said.
Anoka took the lead for good in the third inning on runs by Chell and Lindenfelser to lead 3-1.
The Elks got one run back in the fifth inning when Elliott’s throw home was behind the Elks base runner by a step but that was all the visitors could get across the plate.
Anoka enters the state tournament with a 21-2 record, riding a 20-game winning streak with 12 by way of a shutout.
The pitching duo of Elliot and Lindenfelser have helped limit scoring chances by the opposition while the offense has generated runs at the key times of the game.
Having such strong pitchers helps challenge each other during practice.
“We get good looks off what I consider to be two of the top pitchers (around),” Jesinoski said. “This gives my hitters much confidence to face anyone as they know our pitchers are top notch.”
She attributes the record-setting season to the team’s collective commitment to improve in and out of the season.
“Our girls put a lot of time in which makes my job fun when it comes to putting together all the puzzle pieces together,” Jesinoski said. “From the first day of tryouts to our last practice before sections, the girls remain focused and understand what the coaches expectations are of them individually.”
Another component to the success has been the team’s sense of family where they are all respected by one another and by the coaches. “We work as one,” she added.
The Tornadoes face Becker in the Class AAA state quarterfinals, 9 a.m. June 6, at Caswell Park in North Mankato.
St. Francis (12-4) opened section play with a 10-0 win against No. 12 Princeton and reached the championship semifinal before top-seed Anoka shutout the Saints 8-0.
With one loss, St. Francis was relegated to the bottom bracket where they scored a 7-4 win against No. 10 Andover to be one of the final four teams remaining in section play.
Senior Danae Douville’s two-run homer in the fifth inning against Forest Lake seemed to inject some confidence in the Saints line up in the lower bracket’s semifinal against Forest Lake May 28.
The second-seeded Rangers responded with a six-run sixth inning and went on to win by a score of 8-3 to end the Saints season.
Jason Olson is at