by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The last thing the Elk River softball team wanted was to make a 200-mile trip to Bemidji two straight days.
The Elks made sure one trip was sufficient by shutting down a tired Bemidji Lumberjacks team 5-0 in the Section 8AAA championship game there Wednesday.
“We didn’t want to go back up there,” said Elk coach Stacey Sheetz, referring to the second game Friday that would have been needed had they lost.
“The girls played like they have played all season — solid defense, good pitching, and getting hits when they count.”
Anna Pipenhagen fired a two-hit shutout and Jayme Langbehn smashed a two-run homer for the Elks (18-3), who went 4-0 in the section and gave up just one run.
They’ll make their first state appearance since the 2009 team won the state championship.
Bemidji, hosting the semifinals and finals by virtue of being the No. 1 seed, reached finals winning a 14-inning meat grinder against Brainerd 3-2. With a prior loss, Bemidji had to beat the Elks twice.
“We had to sit through that long game and wait to play them,” said Sheetz. “But that was good for us. You could tell they were tired.”
Pipenhagen and the errorless Elk defense limited the Lumberjacks (20-4) to two singles and two walks. The right-hander struck out 12.
Langbehn, freshman center fielder, drilled a home run high to dead center, off the flag, in the fourth inning, with a runner aboard, giving the Elks a 3-0 lead.
“Yup, I hit the American flag,” she said, adding that it was a “perfect pitch,” a heater down the middle.
Langbehn is already a veteran of three section championship games — in softball last year when the Elks lost to Big Lake, and in basketball this winter when they lost to St. Michael-Albertville.
“It’s really cool to win it this time,” said Langbehn, who also had a double in three at-bats.
Kathi Opsahl was 2-for-3 with an RBI double and Michaela Bruns 1-for-2 with an RBI single for the Elks. Marie Deaton and Courtney Jensen had the other hits. The Elks had seven against Bemidji’s Jackie Yost.
The Elks, ranked No. 7 by the coaches, will open against Orono (20-3) at the state tournament Thursday, June 6, at 9 a.m., in North Mankato. Orono beat Edina 7-2 for the Section 6AAA title.
Sheetz, asked if she had any premonition early in the season about this team going to state, recalled that she was pregnant in 2009. And she is pregnant again.
“It seems like every time I’m going to have a baby, we go to the state tournament,” she laughed.