Buffalo outfielder Jordan Zrust falls as she makes a catch to steal a home run in the third inning. Buffalo defeated Woodbury 3-1. (Isaac Hale, Special to the Star Tribune)
NORTH MANKATO -- As the coach’s daughter, Jordan Zrust of Buffalo gets plenty of chances to absorb the wisdom of her father, Brad.
But it’s safe to say father and daughter never practiced the Bison’s signature moment in their run Thursday to the Class 4A championship game. Zrust stole a home run by crashing over the left field fence, likely saving Buffalo’s season in a 3-1 semifinal victory over Woodbury.
“Not too often, not too often,” Brad Zrust laughed when asked how many times he and Jordan, a freshman left fielder, had worked on that play. “[The ball] kept going back, back, back and I didn’t know if she could get to it. It helped that she’s 5-10.”
Buffalo will face Chanhassen, which defeated Hopkins 10-1 in the other semifinal, in Friday’s championship game at Caswell Park in North Mankato.
With one runner on base and two outs in a 1-1 game in the bottom of the third inning, Jordan Zrust tracked Lexi Jacobs’ long fly and crashed into the soft temporary fence, tumbling over it but holding onto the ball.
“I never thought about where I was,” she said. “I was going to get the ball, no matter what.”
Said catcher Autumn Senger: “That catch was amazing. It energized everyone.”
And it ended just one of many chances Woodbury (18-7) squandered. The Royals loaded the bases in the second inning but scored just once. Pitcher Ashley Mickschl doubled to lead off the sixth but could not score.
“We load the bases and I was thinking we’d get four, five runs but we only get one,” Woodbury coach Bob Samson said. “We get a ball that should be a home run but it isn’t. We had so many chances. We were so close.”
Buffalo (23-4), which beat Park of Cottage Grove 1-0 in the quarterfinals, took the lead in the bottom of the first on sophomore Katie Carlson’s leadoff home run. Carlson finished 3-for-3 and scored all three runs for the Bison.
“We were a little lethargic,” Brad Zrust said. “We needed something like that.”
But it was Buffalo’s error-free defense that was the story of the day.
“We don’t want to give other team extra outs,” Brad Zrust said. “Other teams have had a hiccup, give us a fourth out, and we make them pay.”
Chanhassen pounded out 13 hits against Hopkins, including home runs by Kali O’Keefe and Jessica Bren, and rode the right arm of sophomore Maddie Schwartz, who made her first start of the postseason a great one. Schwartz, who patiently waited her turn behind fellow pitcher Taylor Manno, scattered six hits and walked just one while striking out 10.
“Too long,” Schwartz laughed when asked how long it’s been since she had started a game. “But [coach Joe] Coenen told me I’d get to start a game here. He has confidence in both Taylor and me.”
No team in the tournament may be playing with as much confidence as Chanhassen. The Storm avenged a regular-season loss to Forest Lake by defeating the Rangers 4-1 in the quarterfinals.
Coenen said he knew his team would play well in the tournament.
“We always practice fundamentals and sometimes, you know, they screw around a little bit and don’t take it seriously,” he said. “Last week, they were so focused in practice. They didn’t make any of those mistakes. I turned to my coaches and said ‘Are you seeing this? They’re ready.’ ”