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.
St. Charles outlasted Winona Cotter 12-11 in a Class 2A, Section 1 elimination bracket quarterfinal last spring, and it's safe to say neither starting pitcher left the game with a good feeling.
The teams meet again on Tuesday, likely with the same starting pitchers in the circle, and each with a stronger and more experienced lineup.
The victory last spring extended St. Charles' season by only a few days as the Saints lost their next game to Zumbrota-Mazeppa. This season, however, St. Charles (13-0, 5-0) has much higher expectations while carrying the No. 1-Class 2A ranking from the Minnesota High School Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association on May 3.
And Brenna Koeppel, who surrendered 11 hits and four earned runs in that 2022 playoff victory over Cotter, has been a driving force in the Saints' success this season. She has been nearly unhittable, posting a 13-0 record with just one earned run against her and 116 strikeouts in 78 innings. She has walked only four batters.
At Cotter (9-1, 4-0), Madison Hazelton has a 7-0 record with a 1.54 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 50 innings. St. Charles collected 17 hits, including two home runs from Mya Omdahl, against Hazelton in the 2022 playoff game. Hazelton also is hitting .378 this season, while teammate Emilia Krage is hitting .577 with a home run and 15 RBIs.
The Saints have outscored opponents 114-3, so it's not just Koeppel's pitching that caught the coaches' association's attention. Omdahl is batting .484 with 14 RBIs, Maddie Williamson .400 with 14 RBIs, Lauryn Delger .371 with 13 RBIs and Makadyn Gust .311 with eight RBIs. And catcher Grace Buringa, an all-conference player a year ago, is just warming up with a .500 average, one home run and eight RBIs.
It could be an interesting afternoon on Thursday when two unbeaten teams with a penchant for scoring a lot of runs while giving up only a very few meet on a Plymouth field.
To the winner likely goes the MCAA regular-season championship. And, when postseason play begins, the teams travel different paths, Spectrum (10-0) in Class 2A and West Lutheran (10-0) in Class 1A. Neither team is ranked and both have imposing opponents in their sections, but Spectrum, in particular, is loaded with young talent.
Senior Grace Steffes, batting .545 with 14 RBIs, is the Sting's leader. But she's backed by a trio of ninth-graders that includes pitcher Addison Wallschlaeger (4-0, 0.95 ERA, 41 strikeouts in 22 innings), Isabella Colbert (.550, 10 RBIs) and Cassidy Colbert (.526, nine RBIs). And then there's seventh-grader Reagan Wallschlaeger, who is 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA as a pitcher while hitting .400 with a home run and 10 RBIs.
The West Lutheran lineup begins with pitcher Megan Sherwood, who is 9-0 with a 0.34 ERA while batting .393 with 17 RBIs. Marissa Tusler (.467, 18 RBIs), Maddy Tusler (.630, 16 RBIs), Eleanor Rolf (.543, 17 RBIs) and Kailey Oppitz (.536, 11 RBIs) give West Lutheran a potent offense that has outscored opponents 141-9 this season.
Spectrum, by contrast, has outscored opponents 114-8.
Unless the wheels come off at North St. Paul, the Polars appear headed toward a Metro East Conference championship, and Hastings will be just another stepping stone on that path.
North St. Paul (12-1, 10-0) was undefeated in its initial pass through conference opponents, winning all seven games by a combined 70-21 score. Tartan came closest, losing 7-6 on April 18. Hastings came within four runs, falling 5-1 on April 25.
The Polars probably would be just fine even if the wheels did fall off, as long as sophomore Madelyn Anthony remained in the lineup. Anthony, a pitcher-infielder, has the statistics of a team's MVP. She is 8-0 with a 2.43 ERA and is hitting .650 with seven home runs and 31 RBIs.
A couple of freshmen, infielder-outfielder Quinn Kirchoff (.400, 11 RBIs) and catcher-third baseman Anna Mishler (.297, nine RBIs) join Anthony in giving the Polars a strong and young core. Junior pitcher-first baseman Keely Routzahn is hitting .550 with 10 RBIs.
The Polars won three of five games in last season's Class 4A, Section 4 playoffs and could pose a bigger threat this season, although they do have powerhouse opponents such as Stillwater and White Bear Lake in their path.
Hastings, meanwhile, begins this week looking to end a two-game losing streak. The Raiders' opponent on Monday is Two Rivers, which is tied with Hastings at 6-3 and in second place in the Metro East Conference. The Raiders are 6-4 overall.
Shakopee vs. Rosemount, 4:30 p.m., Monday, May 15. Rosemount (12-0, 11-0) is ranked No. 1 in Class 4A, but the Irish have yet to find any opponent truly in their class. Rosemount has scored 10 or more runs in each of its games and outscored opponents 154-19. The Sabers (8-2, 7-2) know first-hand just how explosive the Irish are. Rosemount scored 10 first-inning runs on the way to a 17-1 victory at Shakopee last Thursday.
Stillwater vs. Maple Grove, 4:30 p.m., Thursday, May 11. A pair of conference leaders and state tournament contenders meet up at Maple Grove. No. 2-4A Stillwater (12-1, 11-1) will be coming off a Wednesday matchup against No. 5-4A Park of Cottage Grove. No. 4-4A Maple Grove (10-1, 8-0) started the week Monday against No. 2-3A Mankato East.
The MN Softball Hub poll is for entertainment purposes only.