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Shakopee holds off Prior Lake in Game 2 to capture Class 4A, Section 2 crown

By Ryan Williamson, SportsEngine, 06/01/18, 8:00AM CDT


Sabers coach Joe Fittante found himself in a familiar situation on Friday, but he experienced a different outcome after leading his team to the state tournament.

Shakopee sophomore Payton Marker looks for the strike zone early in Game 2 of the Class 4A, Section 2 final against Prior Lake. The Sabres defeated the top-seeded Lakers 6-5 to advance to next week's state tournament. Photo by Jeff Lawler, SportsEngine

Game 2

Joe Fittante became Robbinsdale Armstrong’s softball coach in 2016, and in his first year, he led the Falcons on an impressive run through the winner's bracket and into the Class 4A, Section 6 final.

The team, however, was unable to maintain its perfect postseason record and watched its shot at a section title slip through its fingers after being swept by Hopkins -- a team Armstrong defeated in the winner's bracket just days before making the championship round.

Shakopee's Ashley Marchessault successfully throws out a Prior Lake runner from her knees Friday afternoon in Eden Prairie. The Sabres defeated the Lakers 6-5 in the second game of the Class 4A, Section 2 championship. Photo by Jeff Lawler, SportsEngine

Game 1

Prior Lake pitcher Kailey Ahlstrom goes into her windup against Shakopee. Ahlstrom pitched two complete games Friday, but won only Game 1 -- 6-0 gem. Photo by Jeff Lawler, SportsEngine

First Report

After losing to top-seeded Prior Lake in Game 1 of the Class 4A, Section 2 championship earlier on Friday, third-seeded Shakopee bounced back to record a 6-5 victory in Game 2 of the double-elimination tournament and secure a trip to next week’s state tournament.

The Sabers (17-8) fell behind 2-0 early in the second game, but responded with two runs in the second inning to tie score. Junior left fielder Kayla Ruud had the biggest hit of the rally -- a RBI double -- and finished the game 2-for-3.

The fifth inning was the turning point as the Sabers capitalized on four Lakers' errors to help take the lead for good. Shakopee sent eight batters to the plate and scored four runs on just two hits, including one from senior right fielder Cortney Hokanson that scored two runs.

The offense for Prior Lake, the No. 1-ranked team in the most recent Class 4A coaches’ poll, came from senior third baseman Sydney Trees. The St. Cloud State commit started the scoring with a two-run home run in the first and added another two-run homer in the fifth to help the Lakers cut the deficit to 6-5. Senior shortstop Jocelyn Kirk also hit a home run in a losing effort.

Prior Lake (22-4) rode senior pitcher Kailey Ahlstrom to the end. The Middle Tennessee State commit allowed seven hits and struck out three to take the loss. 

It was a complete reversal from her Game 1 performance. Ahlstrom struck out 11 and pitched a two-hit shutout to lead Prior Lake to 6-0 victory.

Prior Lake, which lost to Shakopee 3-1 in the winner's bracket final on May 29, made its way through the loser's bracket to set up Friday's rematch, and the Lakers brought plenty of momentum with them.

They jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second inning behind four hits, including a three-run double from Megan Rasmussen. The sophomore first baseman also had a double and a walk.

Freshman catcher Joie Fittante and junior first baseman Ashley Herold each had a hit for Shakopee.

Sabers starting pitcher Lauren Lindahl took the loss. The junior pitched 3 1/3 innings and allowed five runs on five hits and finished with four strikeouts.

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Joe Fittante became Robbinsdale Armstrong’s softball coach in 2016, and he led the Falcons on an undefeated run to the Class 4A, Section 6 final his first year.

The team, however, was unable to maintain its perfect postseason record and watched its shot at a section title slip through its fingers after being swept by Hopkins -- a team Armstrong defeated in the winner's bracket just days before making the championship round.

Two years later, Fittante found himself in a similar situation, albeit with a different team in a different section.

Fittante is in his first year as Shakopee's head coach, and the Sabers made an undefeated run to the Class 4A, Section 2 final at Miller Park in Eden Prairie, where they faced powerhouse -- and South Suburban Conference nemesis --  Prior Lake on Friday.  

This time, Fittante didn’t experience two consecutive losses but may have had a sense of deja vu. Shakopee was shut out in a loss to Prior Lake in Game 1, but Sabers bounced back to win Game 2 by using a late-inning scoring run to build a cushion big enough to withstand a Lakers rally and escape with a 6-5 victory to secure section title and advance to their first state tournament since 2011.

Entering Friday's rematch with top-seeded Prior Lake, third-seeded Shakopee (17-8) need just one win to capture that elusive state tournament berth. However, the Lakers, who are ranked No. 1 in the most recent Class 4A coaches’ poll, wouldn't make it easy.

Shakopee upset Prior Lake 3-1 in the final of the winner's bracket on May 29, making the Sabers' appearance a bit of a surprise to many considering  Prior Lake and No. 7-ranked Chanhassen were seeded higher in the tournament.

“The fact we weren’t even ranked heading into this tournament gave us a lot of motivation,” sophomore pitcher Payton Marker said. “Not a lot of people thought we could get this far.”

The Lakers (22-4) may have been included in that group, especially after they extended their season with a 6-0 victory in Game 1. Prior Lake senior pitcher Kailey Ahlstrom was dominant the whole way, pitching a two-hit shutout and recording 11 strikeouts.

The teams had about 20 minutes to regroup before their next game, and Fittante and the Sabers put the time to good use -- assessing their approaches at the plate.

“We took a lot of pitches in that first game knowing it might help us in the second game," said Fittante, adding that he decide Shakopee should be more aggressive and move up in the batter's box in the second game.

The strategy worked. After the Lakers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning thanks to a home run from senior third baseman Sydney Trees, Shakopee evened the score in its half of the inning.

Three different Sabers picked up hits, including junior left fielder Kayla Ruud, who got Shakopee on the board with a RBI double.

In the fifth inning, the game took a turn in the Sabers' direction. Shakopee sent eight batters to the plate but managed just two hits, but the Sabers scored four runs due in part to four Lakers' errors. 

“I thought with our senior leadership we’d be able to control it before it spiraled (down), but we weren’t able to regroup,” Lakers coach Matt Haefner said. “It was uncharacteristic of us. We hadn’t done that all season.”

Prior Lake tried putting the miscues behind it and mounded a rally to cut the Shakopee lead to one run thanks to another two-run home run from Trees and a home run from senior shortstop Jocelyn Kirk.

However, the Lakers would not score again as the rest of the lineup was stymied by the Sabers’ pitching trio of sophomore Payton Marker and juniors Lauren Lindahl and Mackenzie Doering, who each contributed in the win.

“We’ve played that way all year,” Fittante said. “They’re our three-headed monster. They’re three very different pitchers that have very different strengths.”

Marker started the game and was replaced by Lindahl, who was followed by Doering. In the seventh, Doering was pulled after giving up a lead-off single. That meant Marker was tasked with finishing the game.

Was she nervous about closing out a game with a state tournament bid on the line?

“Heck yeah,” Marker said after the game. “I was able to pick up a lot of energy from my teammates. It gave me confidence.”

And she showed it by getting the final two outs with runners on first and second base.

“Who would’ve ever thought we’d be in this situation with a freshman (Joie Fittante) behind the plate and a sophomore in the circle,” Fittante said. “These moments don’t faze Payton. She’s very comfortable.”

Friday’s loss was a heartbreaker for Prior Lake, which lost in the section championship matchup for the second consecutive season.

This year's Lakers had seven seniors in the lineup against Shakopee, including Ahlstrom, who pitched all 14 innings on Friday after pitching eight innings in her team’s 3-2 win over Chanhassen one day earlier. 

“This is a tough one to swallow,” Haeffner said while holding back tears. “This is the best team I’ll probably ever coach.”

For Fittante and Shakopee, the win is bittersweet. Fittante stepped in this season after Neil Johnson retired following 42 seasons on the bench for the Sabers.

“Neil Johnson has been a friend of mine and mentor,” Fittante said. “We owe a lot of this to him. I felt like the pieces were there, and as long as the girls believed, then it could happen.”