Elk River 's Jayme Langbehn hopped to home plate after hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning during the Class 3A semifinals (Kyndell Harkness - Star Tribune photo)
NORTH MANKATO, MINN. – The Elk River softball team never cooled down after its walk-off victory in Thursday morning’s Class 3A quarterfinals. The Elks quickly began scoring runs in the semifinals to set up a 9-3 victory over Forest Lake and spot in Friday’s state championship game against Prior Lake.
“We stayed ecstatic the whole time and took it to them early,” Elk River junior catcher Michaela Bruns said. “I felt like once they brought in the next pitcher they were down and we could take it to them after that.”
The Elks (20-3) scored two runs in the first inning and forced Forest Lake pitcher Rachael Harrington out of the game with just one out recorded. The Rangers’ regular starter, Michelle LaCasse, wasn’t any more successful in relief. Elk River’s Jayme Langbehn and Bruns both homered off LaCassse in a seven-run effort against the ace.
The Elks totaled 14 hits after collecting just five in 2-1 first-round victory over Orono in which they didn’t score until the final half inning. Orono led 1-0 with three outs to play when Elk River’s third hit of the game tied it 1-1. Kathi Opsahl’s solo home run preceded a double by Langbehn and a game-winning infield hit by Courtney Jensen.
“Once it went over, it was a relief,” Opsahl said. “We were a little worried, but kept fighting and it paid off.”
Forest Lake (23-3) didn’t have much trouble getting through the first round, defeating Farmington and All-Metro pitcher Ashley Betzold 3-1, but coach Angie Ryan wasn’t happy with her team’s offense. The Rangers had eight hits, a figure well below what the Rangers are used to, she said.
Betzold’s talented arm had a lot to do with that. But Taylor Shortly, the one Forest Lake batter that figured Betzold out, said there was no reason adjustments shouldn’t have been made. Shortly homered and had all three Rangers RBI in the victory.
The lack of hitting followed Forest Lake into the semifinals, although Shortly had two more hits.
Prior Lake in first final
Prior Lake (17-3) consistently threatened and produced enough timely hitting to advance. The Lakers defeated Maple Grove 5-3 in the semifinals to earn the program’s first berth in a state final.
Guiding them there was sophomore pitcher Dee Wibbens with a complete-game effort. Wibbens pitched only 10 innings this season, but the Lakers coaching staff took a chance on her and her newfound confidence. Wibbens was also the winning pitcher in the section semifinals.
“I didn’t know until 45 minutes before the game [I was starting]. I had to mentally prepare myself and tell myself I could do it,” said Wibbens, who started the year on junior varsity.
Sydney Smith lost for the first time this season with the defeat for Maple Grove (22-2). She struggled to find a consistent strike zone and Prior Lake’s big hitters, Justus Perry and Kara Lattery, took advantage of scoring opportunities.
Perry also played a big role in a quarterfinal extra-inning victory against defending champion Stillwater. After intentionally walking Perry twice, Stillwater pitcher Hannah Heacox challenged her with two outs and Perry hit a two-run double to give the Lakers a 3-1 advantage.