Park of Cottage Grove sophomore Saren Croker lays down a bunt against Eagan in the Class 4A Section 3 championship. The Wolfpack defeated the Wildcats 9-6 in Richfield to advance to the state tournament next week. Photo by Jeff Lawler, SportsEngine
Park High School sophomore Bryanna Olson went the distance against Eagan in the second game of the class 4A section 3 championship. The Wolfpack defeated the Wildcats 9-6 to advance to next week's state tournament. Photo by Jeff Lawler, SportsEngine
Seventy-five percent of the people who voted in a “Who will win this game?” poll for the Class 4A, Section 3 championship between top-seeded Park of Cottage Grove and second-seeded Eagan chose the Wolfpack, who entered Thursday’s showdown as the favorites.
Park ended up winning the section title, but it did not come easy as the team’s needed two games to crown the champion.
Park lost to Eagan 15-1 in five innings in Game 1, a contest that felt like it was over after the first half inning when Eagan led 5-0.
The Wolfpack had to play 20 minutes after the loss, but they shifted gears and won the second game 9-6 to advance to the state tournament for the second consecutive season.
Wolfpack coach Bob Loshek said he never doubted his team would respond.
“After the first game, I told them that I still believed in them,” he said. “We’ve done so many good things this year, played in such a tough conference, and every single time we lost…we bounced back.”
Loshek said Park’s plan was to keep Eagan starter Alyssa Jolliffe in the circle as long as possible, thinking that eventually his players would start to hit her after seeing her a few times.
Wildcats coach Christian Duncan knew this as well, and once Jolliffe started to get in trouble in the fourth inning, he replaced her with Heidi Nelson.
Duncan said the Wolfpack were able to come back because they saw Jolliffe so many times, since she pitched all five innings of the first game along with a majority of the second game.
“We tried to switch it out to Heidi, but she didn’t have her best stuff today,” he said. “When you see the same pitcher that many times, you’re going to put the bat on the ball.”
Bryanna Olson started the second game in the circle for the Wildcats (20-7). She didn’t pitch in the first game and struggled early in her appearance, giving up three runs in the top of the first inning.
“I was kind of nervous after (the first inning) when we went in the dugout, but I just drank some water and my teammates were calming me down and saying nice things to me. That made me feel a lot better about the inning,” she said.
Olson settled down, but the Wolfpack (19-5) still trailed 5-1 after the top of the third inning. Their chances of making it back to the state tournament looked in doubt, so Loshek gave his team a simple objective.
“All we have to do from here on out is just get one run an inning,” Loshek said to his team after the top of the third. “If we get one run an inning, we’re going to be good.”
The Wolfpack overachieved. They ended up scoring in each inning after that, and the bottom of the third was the only inning where they only scored one run.
Now, Park will play at 9 a.m. on June 8 in the state tournament. Loshek said the combination of playing in last year’s tournament and playing two tough games Thursday will help prepare the ‘Pack for the types of teams they’ll face at state.
“We know it’s going to be tough,” Loshek said. “Every game is going to be like this, every team is going to be tough. The good part is, now we should be more prepared for day one.”
After getting knocked around by Eagan 15-1 in the first game of the day, Park of Cottage Grove bounced back with a 9-6 win to take the Class 4A, Section 3 title, resulting in the Wolfpack playing in the state tournament in North Mankato next week.
It looked like game two was going to play out similar to game one, as Eagan (20-7) scored three runs in the top of the first off Park starter Bryanna Olson. However, Olson settled down after the frame, allowing only three more runs over the next six innings.
Eagan built off the momentum of the first game to grab a 5-1 lead after the top of the third inning. They were in control and it looked like the Wildcats were on their way to the state tournament.
But the Wolfpack (19-5) fought back, plating eight unanswered runs to take a 9-5 lead into the top of the seventh inning.
The Wildcats scored a run in the seventh, and Taylor Luecke was at the plate with the bases loaded and two outs, down by three runs. She represented the go-ahead run, but Olson got her to fly out to Riley Perryman in center, securing the section title for the Wolfpack.
Eagan junior McKenna Melville watches her first inning line drive against Park of Cottage Grove. The Wildcats defeated the Wolfpack 15-1 in 5 innings in the first of two games Thursday in Richfield. Photo by Jeff Lawler, SportsEngine
Eagan scored early and often against Park of Cottage Grove (18-5) on its way to a 15-1 win in the Class 4A, Section 3 championship game at Richfield Middle School.
This was the first loss for the Wolfpack, who are ranked No. 5 in Class 4A in the state coaches' poll, in the tournament, so the two teams will play a second game to determine who is the section champion. The winner of game two will get a trip to the state tournament, which starts next week.
Eagan (20-6) dominated in every facet of this game, but the largest disparity was the performance of each team’s starting pitcher.
Alyssa Jolliffe started for Eagan, and she pitched an absolute gem, allowing two hits and one earned run in five innings of work.
Hannah Mortenson, Park’s starter, did not fare as well. She struggled with her command as she walked seven batters. She also allowed seven hits and 10 runs in the 1.2 innings she pitched.
Hitting was contagious for the Wildcats’ lineup, as eight different batters got a hit, producing a total of 14. Of all the great performances, Mya Krahn, the nine-hitter, stood out at the plate. She went a perfect 4-for-4 with a double and five RBI.
The MN Softball Hub polls are for entertainment purposes only.