Maple Grove assistant coach Pam Hennen helped Taylor Bratten after the last out in a 6-2 loss to Stillwater in the Class 3A championship in North Mankato. The top-ranked Crimson finished 23-2. Photo by Glen Stubbe * firstname.lastname@example.org
Taylor Bratten knelt on the infield dirt at Caswell Park in North Mankato and buried her crimson-red batting helmet into her palms after making Maple Grove's last out.
It personified a dejected message: close, but so far from the ultimate goal of a first state championship.
Maple Grove, the No. 1-ranked softball team in Class 3A heading into last week's tournament, fell 6-2 to Stillwater in the championship game. The Crimson (23-3) rolled into the finals without allowing a run in the first two games. That changed four batters into the bottom of the first inning against the Ponies when Natalie Gerber bled a single into right field scoring Carlie Hart, who led off with a double. Stillwater added another run later in the inning and tacked on two more in the second to take control.
It was an uncharacteristic game for senior pitcher Cayli Sadler, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year. Nearly untouchable during 7-0 and 3-0 victories in the tournament -- picking up her 500th career strikeout in the latter -- Sadler gave up eight hits and five earned runs against Stillwater. It was only her second loss of the season, the first a one- hitter against Park Center.
Orono, meanwhile, headed back up Hwy. 169 a happy bunch after securing the third-place trophy with a 5-1 victory over Mankato East. Samantha Hartmann recorded 19 strikeouts in the circle in the quarterfinals and semifinals. Hannah Bergh went seven strong innings to earn the bronze medal.
Bloomington Jefferson, after fighting the weather and graduation ceremonies, won back-to-back morning games on Day 2 of the tournament to wrap up the consolation bracket championship.
In Class 2A, Mound-Westonka rebounded from a crushing 4-3 walk-off loss in the quarterfinals to win the consolation bracket.