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Top games: Cherry, Moose Lake-Willow River get a glimpse of what's ahead in the playoffs

By Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine, 05/09/22, 8:00AM CDT


May 13: The Tigers and Rebels expect to contend for a Class 1A, Section 7 championship and state tournament berth.

Photo by SportsEngine

We task our reporters with identifying several intriguing games throughout the state to assemble our Top Games of the Week. The matchups are presented in no particular order, and when there are additional games we want to highlight, we’ll include them with brief notes.

Moose Lake-Willow River vs. Cherry

4:30 p.m., Friday, May 13

Moose Lake-Willow River had been making steady progress in Class 2A, reaching the elimination bracket final or section final in each of the past three Section 7 tournaments.

This season, the Rebels are back in Class 1A and looking for their first state tournament appearance since winning 1A championships in 1981 and 1982. Standing in their way is defending Class 1A, Section 7 champion Cherry, led again by slugging pitcher Lauren Staples and ranked sixth in the coaches' poll released May 1.

The teams meet Friday in what could be a section tournament preview.

Cherry (6-1, 1-0) is on the rebound from a 14-0 loss at Eveleth-Gilbert last week. The Tigers beat Browerville 4-1 on Saturday. 

Moose Lake-Willow River (9-2, 5-0), ranked 10th, is also coming off a loss. Cloquet ended the No. 10-ranked Rebels' six-game winning streak on Saturday with a 5-4 victory. And the Rebels have an important game Monday against the Proctor team that ended their season in two of the past three Class 2A, Section 7 tournaments.

Junior pitchers Sarah Christy and Alexis Hoffman and seniors Mari Kukuk and Natalie Mikrot lead Moose Lake-Willow River.

North Branch vs. Big Lake

3 p.m., Thursday, May 12

The fight for bragging rights in the Mississippi 8 Conference is intense. Three Class 3A ranked teams are atop of the league standings heading into the final weeks of the regular season.

Two of those teams, No. 10-3A North Branch (8-5, 7-2) and No. 7-3A Big Lake (7-3, 7-3), square off on Thursday. No. 2-3A Chisago Lakes appears to have a good grip on the conference lead, and Thursday's game could very well decide second place.

Sophomore pitcher Hannah Bernier was 5-2 with a 1.81 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 50 and one-third innings pitched through nine of North Branch's first 13 games. Madison Helin (13), MaKenna Runk (12), Erin Pederson (10) and Peyton Verdon (10) each had double-digit RBIs in that span.

The Vikings finished fourth and Big Lake tied for second behind Chisago Lakes in the conference standings last season. But North Branch beat Chisago Lakes twice in the Section 7 tournament to secure a state tournament appearance.

North Branch takes on Chisago Lakes on May 17 in what might be looked at as a playoff preview.

Big Lake, which lost out to Becker in last season's Section 5 tournament, looks like a frontrunner in the section this season behind junior pitcher Emerson Bowne.

Minnetonka vs. Shakopee

6 p.m., Tuesday, May 10

Shakopee sits atop the South Suburban Conference standings, ahead of three Class 4A ranked teams, including No. 1 and defending state champion Rosemount.

The Sabers (11-1, 10-1), whose lone loss this season was an 8-0 decision at Rosemount on April 21, have an important stretch this week that includes conference games against No. 8-4A Prior Lake on Thursday and No. 9-4A Farmington on May 16 that could decide where Shakopee lands in the conference title race. 

But at the beginning of Shakopee's big week sits Class 4A, Section 2 rival Minnetonka (6-5, 2-4). The Sabers will take on the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season and in 2017. A victory could be a boost of confidence heading into the playoffs, although No. 2-4A Chanhassen is always a contender in the section tournament.

Shakopee has a strong presence in the pitching circle with senior Paige Strehlow and sophomore Sylvia Shromoff. Senior first baseman Morgan Weiner has shown some power at the plate.

Minnetonka, led by sophomores Isabel Guttenfelder and Ellie Collins and junior Emma Collins, has been inconsistent this season. The Skippers can win big (18-0 against Minneapolis Southwest; 11-1 at Waconia) or lose big (12-0 vs. Buffalo; 13-0 vs. Hopkins).

Other games to keep an eye on

Prior Lake vs. Farmington, 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 11. These teams have survived in the ultra-competitive South Suburban Conference and sit just behind Rosemount and Shakopee in the standings. No. 8-4A Prior Lake (8-5, 7-4) and No. 9-4A Farmington (7-3, 7-3) will go their separate ways in section tournaments, but the teams will have something to play for and should put on an exciting show.

Delano vs. Maple Grove, 4:30 p.m., Friday, May 13. It's a showdown of sixth-ranked teams: No. 6-3A Delano (9-2, 5-1) and No. 6-4A Maple Grove (8-4, 8-2). The Crimson have lost three of their past four games after a 7-0 start and will be motivated to get back on the winning path.

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