by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
A state tournament duel with longtime nemesis Maple Grove must have been on the Elk River softball team’s minds after the Elks lost to the Crimson twice, 6-5 and 2-1, during the regular season.
The Elks have only three setbacks in 23 games, and two were against Maple Grove. The Northwest Suburban rivals play in different sections, where they were both the top-ranked team, so a third matchup was possible and it almost happened.
The Elks won their section, then beat Orono 2-1 and Forest Lake 9-3 at state Thursday. The Crimson won their section and beat Jefferson 2-1 in the state opener. But the Crimson were upended by Prior Lake 5-3 in the semifinals.
“I would kinda like to play Maple Grove again, because we know them,” said Elks coach Stacey Sheetz, before the Maple Grove-Prior Lake game was played. “We were ahead in both those games. But we’d be happy to play Prior Lake, too. We’d be happy to play anyone!”
Anna Pipenhagen, Elk pitcher who lost two duels to Maple Grove’s outstanding soph Sydney Smith, said she would not mind another shot at them.
“If it’s Maple Grove, maybe we can get a payback,” she said. “Those games were so close.”
Maple Grove has beaten the Elks six straight times, over three years, and nine of 10, so you could make the case they’re a team to avoid. Kind of like the Twins vs. the Yankees.
But that’s moot now because Prior Lake and the Elks are the last teams standing. You don’t have to beat everyone to be state champs, just the ones in your way at sectionals and state.
The two newcomers
Ironically, the Elks and Prior Lake are the only two newcomers in a field that had six teams back from last year. Prior Lake beat last year’s champ Stillwater 3-1 in eight innings, then knocked off last year’s runner-up Maple Grove 5-3.
Prior Lake is making its fourth state appearance with no titles, and first since 2010. The Elks are making their fifth with one championship.
The Lakers were hitting .425 as a team heading into state, according to stats they provided, and averaging 9.2 runs. Justus Perry’s two-run double down the line in the eighth beat Stillwater. Catcher Kara Lattery had three hits and two RBI against Maple Grove. They used two pitchers: Morgan Rykken against the Ponies and Dee Wibbens against the Crimson.
Something in common
In the Elk River vs. Forest Lake game, it was hard not to notice that both coaches were pregnant. Sheetz has noted previously, lightheartedly, that she was expecting in 2009, too, when the Elks last went to state and won it, so maybe this is a good omen. Forest Lake’s Angie Ryan, meanwhile, was “due today,” Sheetz reported. They are old friends. Sheetz coached Ryan for a year as an assistant at St. Cloud State after she was done playing there. Ryan was a Huskie teammate of Elk assistant McKayla Kroll.
Sibs connect 2009, 2013 teams
“I’m ecstatic,” said Michala Bruns, junior catcher who was 3-for-4 with an RBI double and solo homer against Forest Lake, referring to playing in the upcoming championship game. “My sister was in the last one for Elk River. I’m getting emotional!”
Michaela’s sister Moriah delivered two game-winning hits in the 2009 tournament, in fact. That was her sophomore year. Michaela said she was watching from the front row.