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.
White Bear Lake pitcher Chloe Barber has been outstanding early in her senior season, racking up 57 strikeouts in just 27 innings pitched.
But the Bears, the defending Class 4A, Section 4 champions, have not yet hit their stride. Errors and a sluggish offense have White Bear Lake entering the week with a .500 record, 2-2 overall and in the Northwest Suburban Conference.
White Bear Lake will need to be at its best on Friday against conference and section rival Stillwater, unbeaten in five conference games entering this week.
The Ponies (5-0) were the biggest obstacle to White Bear Lake's path to the state tournament last spring and already have a 3-0 victory over the Bears in this season's opener for both teams.
Barber struck out 12 in six innings in that April 7 game, but the Bears gave up two unearned runs in the loss. Errors hurt the Bears again in their second game, a 2-0 loss to Forest Lake, but Barber has been nearly perfect in the two games since. The Wichita State commit threw a nine-inning, no-hit shutout against Forest Lake and a six-inning, no-hit shutout against Roseville. She has 35 strikeouts in her last 15 innings.
Stillwater, meanwhile, has a potent lineup led by juniors Addison Coffey (.509, 12 RBIs in 2022), Sarah Dollerschell (.395, 17 RBIs in 2022) and Lily Grundner (.296, 11 RBIs in 2022) and senior Alexis Monty (.415, 13 RBIs in 2022). Anna Corbid, who surrendered just three hits but gave up five walks in the season-opening victory over White Bear Lake, is in the pitcher's circle.
Helene Krage no longer occupies the pitching circle at Centennial. But that doesn't mean Maple Grove has a clear path on the Class 4A, Section 5 road.
Krage shut out Maple Grove in each of the past two section finals, twice denying the Crimson a place in the state tournament. Still, Centennial remains the hill the Crimson will have to climb.
The first step is Tuesday's game at Centennial. Maple Grove (4-1, 4-1) returns North Dakota State commit Madison Wihlm in the circle and junior outfielders Dani Strom and Alissa Wernz and projects as a top contender in both the conference and section races.
At Centennial (3-1, 3-1), sophomore Riley O'Connell has taken Krage's spot and has a 2-1 record, a 2.33 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 21 innings pitched this season. And with returning sluggers Lily Gilmore (7-for-12 with three stolen bases this season) and Celsi Burn (4-for-10 with a home run) in the lineup, Centennial expects to put up a strenuous defense of its section championship.
Tuesday's game is meaningful to both teams, but it's not necessarily a harbinger of future results. Maple Grove beat Centennial 3-2 early last season before losing twice to the Cougars in the postseason. And, in 2021, Centennial won the early season game against the Crimson 14-3 before winning a pair of one-run games in the playoffs.
Ava Hamsund and Makayla Steffes have played on teams that have won 49 games and lost just four in two-plus varsity seasons at Winona. Half of those losses have come in the Class 3A state championship game.
The Winhawks seniors are an important part of a team many expect to make a third run at a state title. Winona (5-0, 4-0) has a busy week, with four games culminating in Saturday's meeting with Class 4A Suburban East Conference challenger Park of Cottage Grove.
Park of Cottage Grove (4-1, 4-0) takes a four-game win streak into a very busy week of its own, with five scheduled games, including Suburban East Conference matchups against Irondale (Monday), Roseville (Tuesday), Forest Lake (Wednesday) and East Ridge (Friday).
Seniors Noelle Krumrie, Emma Ambroz and Skyler Croker and junior Grace Conway give Park of Cottage Grove a potent lineup.
With Steffes, Hamsund and Lauren Kreckow, the Winhawks have a wealth of pitching talent. Steffes and Hamsund are both proficient at the plate, as well, and get plenty of support from Avery Engbrecht and catcher Macy McNally. The group spearheads an attack that has produced 48 runs in its five games this season.
But it's the pitching that makes Winona special. The Winhawks didn't allow an opponent a run until the fifth game, a 14-1 victory over Rochester Century.
Le Sueur-Henderson vs. Eden Prairie, 10 a.m., Saturday, April 29. Le Sueur-Henderson (3-1, 2-1), led by pitcher Chloe Brandt, is a perennial Class 2A challenger and always has a few big schools on its schedule. Eden Prairie (4-1, 2-0) should help the Giants hone their game.
Bethlehem Academy vs. Randolph, 4:30 p.m., Thursday, April 27. Two high-scoring teams collide in a Gopher Conference shootout. Bethlehem Academy (5-0, 4-0), which reached the Class 1A, Section 1 championship game last spring, has outscored opponents 45-11 this season. Randolph (3-0, 3-0), which placed third at the 2022 Class 1A state tournament, has been even better, outscoring opponents 40-2.
The MN Softball Hub poll is for entertainment purposes only.