The telenovela that has been playing out in the Suburban East Conference this season could reach a highly entertaining and dramatic climax this week when three of the league's principal characters attempt to deftly navigate a slate of impactful games and outperform each other in a heated competition to ultimately be crowned conference champion.
Park of Cottage Grove, Forest Lake and East Ridge each ended last week with only one conference loss (and one loss overall), making the chase for the league title even more competitive as the group maintains its ruling class at the top of the standings. The trio take on each other in three games this week (click here to view all the matchups) as they try to avoid adding a second defeat to their records — a loss that could transform a contender into a pretender. It's all must-see action that should not only amp up the rivalries but also reveal the true identity of the league's top team.
¡Cómo emocionante! (How exciting!)
Because we can't choose all three contests to be our Top Game(s) of the Week, we selected Tuesday's showdown between Park and Forest Lake for the starring role.
At this point, a quick recap is in order.
Park, Forest Lake and East Ridge each have one loss on the season, and in perfect plot development, those defeats add more intrigue to the story. The Wolfpack recorded a 1-0 home victory over the Rangers (8-1, 8-1) on May 1, but the Wolfpack (13-1, 10-1) stumbled in an 8-4 home loss to the Raptors on April 23. And the Raptors (11-1, 10-1) were rolled by the Rangers 15-2 on April 18.
This week brings the rematches of those contests, including that thrilling one-run game between Park and Forest Lake, meaning any bad blood could boil over with so much at stake.
Credit Wolfpack pitcher Bryanna Olson for helping keep the Rangers' potent lineup locked down in the first meeting. The senior righthander did not surrender a run and struck out nine while allowing two hits and one walk to Forest Lake. The Concordia St. Paul commit may need a similar performance to pull out another win on Tuesday.
Hannah Schluetter scored the only run in the victory, and the senior's hit made her one of only five players to reach base in the game. Madi Meduna led the group with a hit and a walk, but the senior outfielder may need to do more this go-round. The Winona State commit has been one of the Wolfpack's most productive hitters this season, recording four RBI twice in the last three games, including an 8-5 victory over Roseville on May 2.
Forest Lake needs to flip the script to win the rematch as, in a plot-twist, it faces its rival at home, which should provide a boost for pitcher Claire Bakkestuen and her well-traveled teammates. The senior righthander boasts a 5-1 record, along with a 0.76 ERA, 52 strikeouts, and one save this season; and the rest of the Rangers have had just two games at home this year. In the 11 innings she's thrown at the friendly confines, Bakkestuen has allowed a mere six hits and one run (one earned) while walking two and striking out 16. She replicated her home averages at Park, (4 hits, 1 earned run, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts) but took the loss after six innings of work.
Her performance Tuesday will be key to flipping the outcome, but the Rangers need their lineup to produce, as well.
They have five players with 10 or more hits on the season, including Katie Gemuenden (12 hits, .414 BA), Logan Anderson (22 hits, 13 runs, 16 RBI, 4 home runs, 3 stolen bases, .668 BA), Grace Frechette (15 hits, 15 RBI, 3 home runs, .517 BA) and Abigail Drury (11 hits, 10 runs, .357 BA). But this Murderers' Row was not lethal against Park, combining for just one hit (Drury), one walk (Gemuenden), no runs and five strikeouts.
Need another reason to pay attention to this matchup? It just happens to feature the two teams tied atop the Class 4A coaches' poll released on May 2.