by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Prior Lake coach Matt Haefner tried to overturn the spectacular catch by Jayme Langbehn that took a homer from Shaye Barton with the score 3-3 in the sixth inning of the state finals.
While the Elk infielders and outfielders rushed to center field to mob Langbehn and escort her back to the dugout, Haefner politely conferred with the umpires for over a minute. He was hoping it made a difference that the outfielder was off the ground and falling over the fence when she caught the ball.
“The umpires said it was a different rule in college from high school,” said Haefner, after the game. “To be honest I don’t know the rule but I’m going to look into that.”
Langbehn made a second great catch two innings later.
“The second catch was a phenomenal play and she stayed in the field in that one,” said Haefner. “But the first one, when she left her feet and went over the fence, and landed over the fence, I don’t see how that can not be a home run. I could see it if she had one foot on the ground and then fell over.”
He chuckled, “Who knows, maybe we’ll see that play on Sports Center one of these days.”
Postscript, a day later: Haefner’s hunch was correct — Langbehn’s catches did indeed turn up on SportsCenter’s top 10, as well as Channel 4 and 5’s coverage.
The film showed, incidentally, that Langbehn’s foot hit the ground before she tumbled over the fence, so the umpires’ call was correct. His challenge was reasonable, though, because from a distance you couldn’t tell.
Pipenhagen, Opsahl, Jensen all-tourney
Elk River had three of the 10 all-tournament picks. They were junior pitcher Anna Pipenhagen, who pitched all 22 innings; senior left fielder Kathi Opsahl, who went 6-for-10 with two RBI and the game-tying homer against Orono; and junior first baseman Courtney Jensen, 5-for-10 with four RBI.
Elk fans were puzzled how Langbehn could be overlooked. The explanation is that the all-tournament teams are picked before the finals are completed — probably before her two game-saving, highlight-reel catches. Langbehn was also 4-for-9 plus two walks, five runs and and a three-run homer.
They do that at the state basketball tournaments, too, having the media vote by halftime of the finals. That’s an imperfect system to be sure, but the officials want to make sure the all-tourney teams are ready to go when the games end.
Opsahl’s awesome season
With three more solid games at state, Kathi Opsahl completed probably the best hitting season any Elk ever had. She set team records with a .540 batting average, 32 runs-batted-in, and 47 hits, and tied the doubles record with 16. Opsahl and Langbehn had five homers each, so C.J. Rice still has the home run record with seven in 2005.
Records that Opsahl broke were Lindsey Dietz’s .513 average in 2002, Nikki Zappa’s 28 RBI in 2003 and Katilyn Roche’s 42 hits last year. Opsahl matched current teammate Michaela Bruns’ 16 doubles set last year.
Langbehn actually tied Zappa’s RBI record herself with 28 while hitting .475 with five homers. Bruns hit .447 with 24 RBI and three homers.
Alert plays by Beese
Prior Lake cost itself a crucial run in the first inning of the finals with a base running gaffe for which Elk shortstop Austyn Beese made them pay.
With one out, Isabella Gates singled, and Kara Lattery followed by slicing a double down the right field line. A strong throw from Elk right fielder Sydney Person prompted third-base coach Haefner to hold up Gates at third base, but Lattery had already churned around second base.
That left two base runners hung up. The Lakers tried to get a double rundown going, but Beese held the ball and ran right at Gates between third and home, and the Elks eventually tagged her out.
Beese made a similar good decision when Forest Lake tried a double steal Thursday as she looked off the runner from first and fired home to nail the lead runner. Plays like that make her a key asset even while going 1-for-10 at the plate in the tournament.
Elk alums on hand
Three members of the 2009 Elk championship team were on hand, including pitcher Amy Scheibel, who’s on the coaching staff. The others were first baseman Katie Erickson, who’s playing D-I hockey for Lindenwood University in Missouri, and shortstop Kayti Hanson, who’s a D-I second baseman with Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne.