Anoka coach Toni Jesinoski (left) and her team celebrate at home plate after defeating Forest Lake 3-1 to win the Class 4A, Section 7 title on Thursday in Ramsey. Photo by Peter Odney, SportsEngine
Toni Jesinoski got a full day's head start on exorcising the butterflies that often accompany playing for a state tournament bid.
The Anoka coach dealt with the anxiety on Wednesday, when the Tornadoes faced longtime rival Forest Lake in the semifinals of the Class 4A, Section 7 winner's bracket.
“Yesterday I could hardly even function,” Jesinoski said.
Anoka eked out a one-run, nine-inning victory in that matchup between Forest Lake, but the Rangers won their next game to earn the right to play the Tornadoes again -- this time on Thursday for the section title in the double-elimination tournament.
Nerves weren't a problem in the rematch, as top-seeded Anoka rallied to defeat third-seeded Forest Lake 3-1 at Central Park in Ramsey to take the section crown and deny the Rangers' bid for a second consecutive state tournament appearance.
Anoka (22-1), ranked No. 2 in the state coaches’ Class 4A poll, benefited from the pressure they felt in its first battle with Forest Lake, Jesinoski said.
“The win yesterday, as nerve-wracking as it was, the kids were totally different coming in today,” Jesinoski said. “They prepared today like they knew it was their game.”
Having a pitcher in the circle like Amber Elliott, who was 5-1 with an 0.75 ERA and 83 strikeouts in the regular season, would be a confidence booster for any lineup.
But the senior's presence sent Anoka's talented roster soaring to a level that saw its No. 8 hitter -- senior catcher and Elliot batterymate LeeAnna Nevin -- finish the game with three hits and two RBI.
Nevin cracked three singles, including one in the bottom of the fourth inning to drive in what would be the winning run, helping to dispel the notion that offensive production is relegated to the top of the Tornadoes' lineup.
“I’m not trying to hit anything like a big home run, I just know I have to get on [base],” Nevin said.
Nevin said that longtime teammate Elliott and the other seniors aren’t yet finished making history in Anoka uniforms.
“All of us seniors, there are eight of us on the section roster this year," Nevin said. "we want to go back to state and leave an imprint on Anoka.”
Elliott, an Augustana University commit who struck out 11 in a complete-game three-hitter on Thursday, said that some of the credit for the victory goes to Nevin.
“She comes in clutch a lot, especially with calling pitches,” Elliott said.
Jesinoski said that Nevin had been a force at the plate as well as behind it this season.
“She came up with huge, clutch hits,” Jesinoski said. “It was automatic for her.”
Rangers coach Sean Hall, who guided the program to a sixth-place finish at the state tournament a year ago, tipped his hat to the Tornadoes for keeping the No. 7-4A Forest Lake (17-8) in check.
“You’re going against a tough team, an unbelievable pitcher, and you do what you can to generate runs,” Hall said.
Forest Lake's Lindsey Johnson slides to steal a base in Thursday's 3-1 loss to Anoka. Johnson would score the lone run on the day for the Rangers. Photo by Peter Odney, SportsEngine.
Senior pitcher Amber Elliott surrendered just three hits while striking out 11, and senior catcher LeeAnna Nevin went 3-for-3 with two RBI to vault top-seeded Anoka past third-seeded Forest Lake 3-1 in the Class 4A, Section 7 championship at Central Park in Ramsey on Thursday afternoon.
Forest Lake, ranked No. 7 in the state coaches’ poll, took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on an RBI double by Amanda Gemuenden. The No. 2-4A Tornadoes erased the deficit in the bottom of the fourth after Nevin singled with the bases loaded to score two runs.
Junior outfielder Kaitlyn Backman homered to left-center field to score the final run for the Tornadoes (23-1), who reached the state tournament for the third time in the last four years. Anoka finished as the Class 3A runner-up two years ago but lost 1-0 to Forest Lake the section championship last year.
Junior pitcher Megan Baniecke struck out six batters in taking the loss for the Rangers (17-8) on Thursday.
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