Adrianna Thomas (32) and Bryn Ruhberg embrace after Ruberg scored the game-winning run in Centennial's 4-3 eight-inning victory over Maple Grove. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine
Helene Krage earned the nickname “Shorty” when she was the smallest player on her 10U softball team. But it might be time for a new nickname because the Centennial junior has learned to both enjoy and thrive in the biggest of situations.
Krage pitched an eight-inning complete game, homered and singled to ignite a seventh-inning rally that helped Centennial wrap up the Section 5, Class 4A championship with a 4-3 victory over Maple Grove.
The Cougars (21-1), ranked No. 2 in the final Class 4A coaches’ poll, advanced to the state tournament for the first time since placing third in 2018.
Maple Grove (16-7) pushed Centennial to the limit but fell short in its bid to defend the state championship it won in 2019. A throwing error in the bottom of the eighth allowed Centennial catcher Bryn Ruberg to score from first base and give the Cougars the section title.
Centennial trailed 3-1 entering the bottom of the seventh inning. Even Krage admitted she had entertained the idea that the Cougars would have to prepare for a second and deciding game in the double-elimination tournament if and when No. 8-4A Maple Grove won the first game.
Then first baseman Maddy Ringen led off the seventh with a hard-hit single through the Crimson infield and Krage stepped into the batter’s box. The pressure was on. It was as good as a shot of adrenaline.
“I was very happy I was in that position,” Krage said. “I have a lot of confidence, and I like being in those spots.”
Centennial's Helene Krage singled in the seventh inning, igniting a two-run rally that tied the game and sent it to extra innings. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine
It was the worst of games, and it was the best of games for Centennial.
Despite committing four errors, scratching out just two hits through five innings and trailing 3-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, Centennial rallied back for a 4-3 eight-inning victory over Maple Grove that gave the Cougars the Class 4A, Section 5 championship and a berth in next week’s state tournament.
First-year Centennial coach Rick Thomas said afterward that the Cougars had found a way to win despite having played "our worst game of the year.”
It was Adrianna Thomas, a sophomore who struggled at the plate through the first part of the season, who tied the game with a two-run single in the bottom of the seventh. After pitcher Helene Krage put Maple Grove down in order in the top of the eighth, catcher Bryn Ruberg walked at lead off for the Cougars, the Northwest Suburban Conference regular-season champion ranked No. 2 in the final Class 4A coaches' poll. Ruhberg scored the walk-off run moments later when an errant throw from third base on Abby Lohse’s ground ball gave the Cougars' catcher the time she needed to round the bases.
Centennial (21-1) advances to the state tournament for the first time since 2018, when the Cougars beat Buffalo in the third-place game. Maple Grove, which won the Class 4A title in 2019, finished its season at 16-7.
Isabella Daniels pitched a complete game for the Crimson, striking out five. She also drove in a pair of runs with a fifth-inning single. Dorothy Dueck had three singles and scored a run for Maple Grove.
Krage also pitched a complete game for Centennial. She struck out eight and walked just one. She also hit a second-inning home run and singled in the seventh to spark the Cougars’ rally.
Maple Grove pitcher Isabella Daniels pitched a complete game and struck out five batters. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine