by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The day after Elk River reached the state softball finals by pounding three home runs, the Elks completed the job by preventing two of them.
Jayme Langbehn soared above the center field fence for a pair of home-run-robbing catches, enabling the Elks to fend off Prior Lake 4-3 for the Class 3A championship in a thriller Friday at North Mankato.
“She was amazing! And they couldn’t have come at a better time,” said coach Stacey Sheetz about the gems in the sixth and eighth innings. Asked if she’d ever seen better catches, the coach beamed, “No, never.”
Her freshman outfielder also scored two runs, including the game-winner, while Courtney Jensen drove home that go-ahead run, and Anna Pipenhagen once again pitched the distance.
“I am very grateful to Jayme,” said Pipenhagen, who notched her 19th win. “We could not have won without her.”
The Elks finished 21-3 and nabbed the program’s second state crown in five years, joining the 2009 team.
They hit three homers beating Orono 2-1 and Forest Lake 9-3 on Thursday, and Langbehn had one of those, too. The second-year starter has five dingers herself this year but none as memorable as the two she stole from Prior Lake.
“The first one, I had a feeling I could catch it,” said Langbehn. “I didn’t know where the fence, was but I knew where the ball was. The second one, I knew where the fence was, and that one was a little easier.”
Prior Lake scored three in the fifth to pull even 3-3 on a solo homer by Shayne Barton and two-run, two-out double by Libby Bingham.
It appeared the Lakers (17-4) would take the lead in the sixth when Barton crushed another long ball, this one to dead center, with two outs.
Langbehn retreated quickly, exploded above the fence and reached high to snag the ball, then tumbled over the fence while hanging on. The Prior Lake coach questioned the umpires at length whether it was a legal catch but their “out” call stood.
After the Elks went up 4-3 in the top of the eighth, Prior Lake’s Sam Buhmann, leading off, drilled a Pipenhagen pitch to deep center, slightly toward left. The ball was just beyond the fence when Langbehn, retreating to her right, leapt and reached over to pull it back in, this time landing on her feet inside the park.
“I was still super worried. I was freaking out,” said Langbehn about the second long ball. She was still beaming and shaking with emotion 40 minutes after the game and several press interviews.
Almost forgotten was the fact that she had left the game with a turned ankle in the second inning and was seen crying, from pain or disappointment or both, in the dugout. But she got taped up and missed only an inning.
Jensen delivers in 8th
The Elks, blanked since the fourth inning by Laker starter Morgan Rykken and reliever Dee Wibbens, finally broke through in the eighth to regain the lead.
Langbehn walked and was bunted to second by Pipenhagen. Up stepped Jensen, junior first baseman, with one out.
“Coach told me to just slap it out there, so I did what she told me,” said Jensen, who was 5-for-10 in the tournament. Tense situation, she was asked? “Oh, yah, I was nervous, but I knew I had to do it for my team.”
Jensen hit a soft liner up the middle, barely between the infielders, and Langbehn, the fastest Elk, churned around third and slid home, beating the throw on a close play.
“I knew I need to score. I need to go!” said Langbehn. “I just ran hard as I could.”
Elks had 3-0 lead early
The Elks took a 1-0 lead in the first when Marie Deaton singled, stole second, stole third, and scored on Kathi Opsahl’s bouncer through the hole to left.
The Elks didn’t hit much after that but got two unearned runs. Austin Beese singled in the third inning, hustled to third on Deaton’s bunt single, and scored on an infield error. Langbehn drew a walk in the fourth and scored from third base with bases loaded and two out when the catcher overthrew on a pickoff attempt.
Lakers bats troublesome
Prior Lake, which hit over .400 as a team coming into the state tournament, outhit the Elks 9-8 and had far more hard-hit balls. They cost themselves a run with a base running gaffe in the first inning.
“They (Elk River) made a couple big plays,” said Matt Haefner, Laker coach. “The center fielder, those were the big plays of the game. I was proud of the kids for coming back and tying the game, and I thought momentum was on our side. But they are a good team over there. They are well-coached and they played hard.”
Sheetz knew the Lakers would break out eventually and her team just had to hold on.
“They hit the ball really well on that team. They are swingers. They go for it.”
Pipenhagen gave up nine hits and two walks, and struck out seven. In 22 innings at state she gave up seven runs and 19 hits, and struck out 20.
“We kept telling Pipe, just throw the ball,” said Sheetz, “and you’ve got good defense behind you.”
She sure did.
Elk River …….. 101 100 01 — 4 8 1
Prior Lake ……. 000 030 00 — 3 9 2
Elk hitting — Austyn Brees 1-for-3 (run, 2 walks), Marie Deaton 2-for-4 (run), Michaela Bruns 0-for-4, Kathi Opsal 2-for-4 (RBI), Jess Neuman 0-for-4, Jayme Langbehn 1-for-2 (2 walks, 2 runs), Anna Pipenhagen 1-for-3, Courtney Jensen 1-for-4 (RBI), Ali Krohn 0-for-3
Elk pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Pipenhagen (W) 8-9-3-3-2-7
Laker hitting — Shaye Barton 1-for-4 (solo HR), Isabelle Gates 2-for-3 (run, walk), Kara Lattery 2-for-4 (2B, run), Justus Perry 0-for-3, Libby Bingha 1-for-4 (2B, 2 RBI), Sam Buhmann 1-for-4, Katie Sickman 0-for-2, Shannon Borchardt 0-for-2, Dee Wibbens 2-for-3, Taylor Roddie 0-for-3
Laker pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Morgan Rykken 5-7-3-1-2-3, Dee Wibbens (L) 3-1-1-1-3-1
Left on base: Elks 9, Lakers 7