Tibby Stewart is quiet but has a serious demeanor. So it was hard to tell if she felt slighted when, with a runner on third in the bottom of the sixth inning of a tie game, Bloomington Jefferson intentionally walked junior outfielder Sarah Houlihan to face the freshman.
But Benilde-St. Margaret's coach Adrian Wagner knew that Stewart was seething. Jefferson coach Rob Giesen is Stewart's summer league coach and a number of the Jefferson players are her summer teammates. They know what kind of player she is. "That was a lot of motivation for her," Wagner said.
The decision — though sound in principle as Houlihan, with a .464 average and four home runs this season, is the Red Knights' best hitter — backfired. Stewart belted a three-run homer and gave Benilde-St. Margaret's, ranked No. 7 in the Class 3A state coaches' poll released May 9, its first victory over Jefferson in nine games (since the formation of the Metro West Conference).
The Red Knights (9-2, 6-1), expected to be in rebuilding mode after losing five seniors to graduation from a team that made back-to-back Class 3A state tournament appearances, but they've taken off from that milestone victory on April 23. When the teams meet again on Tuesday, both will be near the top of the conference standings.
And Stewart, batting .432 with a 14 RBI and compiling a 2.95 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 38 innings pitched, is leading a pack of talented freshmen as the Red Knights prepare to enter the section playoffs with realistic hopes of a third consecutive state tournament berth.
Catcher McKenzie Rich, whose two-run double tied the April 23 game, Nicole Doering and Sophie Melsness are also making big contributions as freshmen. Rich leads the team with 16 RBI and is batting .389. Doering has a homer and 14 RBI while batting .366 and has pitched some in relief.
Jefferson (9-5, 7-3), meanwhile, has also improved since the early season meeting.
Infielders Kylie Weingart (.465, 1 home run, 7 RBI) and Payton Hanson (.412, 5 home runs, 22 RBI, 17 walks) and outfielder Alyssa Felt (.405, 4 doubles, 1 triple, 2 home runs, 10 RBI) lead the Jaguars' attack. Cloie Moore and Lauren Giesen share pitching duties. Moore is 5-4 with a 4.45 ERA, and Giesen is 4-1 with a 1.88 ERA.