Anoka High School softball players huddled up before the start of practice Monday. ] CARLOS GONZALEZ firstname.lastname@example.org - June 2, 2014, Anoka, Minn., Anoka girls softball has qualified for its first ever state tournament.
Friends longer than successful battery mates, Anoka pitcher Megan Lindenfelser and catcher Dayja Rosario relished leading the Tornadoes to a first softball state tournament appearance ever.
Anoka made program history with a 10-3 victory against Forest Lake in the Class 3A, Section 7 championship game. The Rangers’ final out, a fly ball to shortstop Amber Elliot, triggered an emotional outburst.
“I went to Amber first to thank her for catching the ball,” said Lindenfelser, Anoka’s ace. “Everyone kind of surrounded her but then I turned and saw Dayja, on the edge of the crowd, with her face in her hands, crying.”
The only two seniors in the lineup embraced, marking a moment both still cannot believe was real. Anoka (21-2) opens state tournament play at 9 a.m. on Thursday at Caswell Park in North Mankato against Becker (21-2) .
A young team — Anoka’s lineup consists of two seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and five freshmen — developed the right chemistry. Offensively, the Tornadoes were terrors. They scored an average of 9.5 runs per game and won seven games by at least 10 runs. When players weren’t clubbing extra-base hits, they were aggressive in taking extra bases.
“One through nine, we get runners on,” fourth-year head coach Toni Jesinoski said.
Hitting with clout made the difference in the second of three games against defending state champion Elk River. Trailing 4-0, Anoka rallied to tie on Lindenfelser’s grand slam.
Down to her last strike with two runners on and two outs, sophomore first baseman Morgan Paaverud smacked the game-winning hit to the outfield fence.
“We’ve been a powerhouse team,” Paaverud said. “Some days the top on the lineup is hitting. Other days it’s the bottom half.”
Lindenfelser acknowledged runs in bunches made her job in the circle easier at times. A great relationship with Rosario hasn’t hurt, either.
“Our chemistry is perfect,” Lindenfelser said. “She seems to always call the pitch I want to throw.”
Said Rosario: “She has the quality every catcher wants — she trusts me. And I trust her to hit her spots.”
Lindenfelser’s mastery of a half-dozen pitches, understanding of opposing batters’ tendencies and knowing when to throw the right pitch earned her a place as “one of the smartest pitchers” Jesinoski said she has coached.
Lindenfelser spearheads a defense allowing just 1.9 runs per game. Backing her up is Elliot, a freshman shortstop with a flamethrower arm. Great speed allows center fielder Taylor Chell to track down fly balls.
Good defense clinched the all-important third game against Elk River. Trailing 3-2 in the top of the seventh inning in the section semifinals,the Elks loaded the bases with no outs. Anoka called timeout, regrouped and got a force at home followed by two Lindenfelser strikeouts.
Both of Anoka’s losses came within the first three games of the season. But riding a 20-game winning streak into the state tournament doesn’t make the team invincible, Jesinoski said. The team’s attacking style on the base paths resulted in an out during the section championship game when a player overran the teammate in front of her.
And Jesinoski has seen her team’s “loose and fun” mentality backfire late in games when fielding errors snowball. For that reason, Jesinoski said she could not enjoy the seventh inning against Forest Lake.
“Even with two outs I was nervous,” she said. “But I felt better watching Megan and Dayja because they were zeroed in.”
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574