Allison Benning didn’t start in the pitching circle for Stillwater in the Class 4A, Section 4 championship game Thursday, but the superb senior made her presence felt anyway.
Stillwater coach Angie Ryan chose to start junior Kiera Murphy instead, confident that Murphy could hold down finals opponent Woodbury.
Ryan’s confidence was well-thought out as the No. 1-ranked Ponies (23-1) broke out to a 5-1 lead in the second inning and cruised to an 8-5 victory and their third consecutive Class 4A state tournament berth.
“Kiera is a very good pitcher and after the heat yesterday (when Stillwater defeated White Bear Lake in the winners’ bracket final), we thought we’d give Kiera a shot. She pitched very well.”
Murphy pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up three runs and three hits. Benning, playing first base, hit two home runs and drove in four runs.
When Murphy began to tire in the fifth inning with temperatures in the 90s, Benning relieved her and pitched 2 2/3 innings in relief to earn the save.
Benning allowed two inherited runners to score after entering the game and gave up a long two-run home run to Woodbury’s Kam Monson with two outs in the seventh. But the outcome was never in doubt.
“Both of our pitchers threw very well,” Ryan said. “Woodbury hit us well for how well we pitched.”
Ryan, in her first year as Ponies head coach after two seasons before the COVID year as an assistant, said winning the Section after a year hiatus, was satisfying.
“It’s good to get back to the state tournament,” said Ryan, recalling the Ponies' Class 4A state championship run in 2018 and their near-comeback victory in the 2019 finals. “This team really wanted to get another shot.”