by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The last time Zimmerman played Annandale, the Thunder led by 11 runs, with McKenna Butau pitching, and wound up losing 15-14.
However, Butau and the Thunder had no such lapse in the all-important rematch, beating the Cardinals 10-0 in five innings at home Tuesday in their sudden-death playoff opener.
The Thunder (11-7), seeded fourth in their sub-section, advanced to the double-elimination portion, facing top-seeded Maple Lake on Wednesday, in Section 5AA.
“I was nervous about Annandale,” said Thunder coach Emily Zahn, alluding to the blown lead. “I don’t know what happened in that game.”
Whatever it was didn’t happen this time. Butau, a freshman, got through some early trouble, stranding two runners in the second inning and three in the third, then got stronger as the game went on.
Butau has thrown 16 straight shutout innings in a three-game win streak by the Thunder.
“She has a lot of movement on the ball,” said Zahn. “Last year, we thought she threw too many strikes. We’ve been working with her on ‘wasting’ a few pitches.”
Ashley Pool got the Thunder going by slugging a two-run homer in the second inning, the first round-tripper for the sophomore who’s a three-year starter.
Pool is normally the Thunder’s No. 1 pitcher but she had a freak accident three games ago, straining the index finger on her throwing hand when strong-armed catcher Gabby Antolak made a particularly hard throw back to the pitcher. That’s why Butau has gotten three consecutive starts although Pool threw two innings against Little Falls.
The Thunder got big production the bottom of the lineup. No. 8 hitter Kayla Christopherson doubled home a run in the fourth, and singled home two more to end the game in the fifth. No. 9 hitter Kayla Trisko doubled and scored from third on a bunt by Savannah Olson in the third inning, then stroked a two-run single in the fourth.
“That was nice to see. The bottom of the lineup was saying before the game they wanted to do it for our senior,” said Zahn. “They (Annandale) didn’t give Gabby anything to hit today.”
Antolak, the team’s lone senior and cleanup hitter, hitting over .500 in her fifth season, had one single in her final home game.