A Metro East Conference championship is nothing new for North St. Paul. The Polars have won or shared the title the last eight years.
But getting to the Class 4A state tournament has been a bit more of a challenge. North St. Paul (13-1-1, 9-0-1) last appeared in the state tournament four years ago, so it's understandable that coach Cliff Charpentier would temper his enthusiasm for his team's playoff chances. "We are cautiously optimistic," Charpentier said.
Henry Sibley (12-3, 10-3) last appeared in a state tournament in 2006 and hasn't had the regular-season success the Polars have had. But after victories over Hastings and Mahtomedi last week, the Warriors appear headed to a second-place conference finish and coach Phil Stohr said he is feeling very good about his team.
A victory at North St. Paul on Tuesday in our Top Game of the Week might not be enough to steal a conference title from the Polars, but it would send the Warriors into the ultra-competitive Class 4A, Section 3 tournament (which includes top-ranked Park of Cottage Grove) on an emotional high.
Polars senior Ashton Putzier pitched a three-hitter, walking one and striking out seven, in a 4-0 victory over Henry Sibley in the season-opener on April 4. But the Warriors now have won 11 of 12 after an 0-2 start.
Junior pitcher Jaelyn Orth leads the way for the Warriors. She is 11-3 with a 1.51 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 92 2/3 innings pitched and is hitting .471 with a home run and 17 RBI.
At North St. Paul, Putzier might be the biggest reason for Charpentier's cautious optimism. She is 12-1 with a 1.34 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 89 innings pitched. And Putzier, who was the pitcher of record as Stillwater took two games from the Polars in last year's Section 4 championship, could be considered highly motivated to get beyond the section playoffs this year. "She has been stellar and the foundation for our success this year," Charpentier said.
Sophomore shortstop Jenna Rubbelke anchors the Polars defense and is hitting .426 in the leadoff spot. Outfielders Elena Martinez (.392) and Salena Jeanson (.311 with two home runs) and catcher Brittany Weber (.468) give the offense some punch.
"This team is starting to really jell and build a great chemistry," Charpentier said.