Stillwater's Tatiana Tabucol hit a single that knocked in two runs in the fourth inning. Photo: JEFF WHEELER • email@example.com
NORTH MANKATO — Entering the Class 4A softball state tournament Thursday morning with a .500 record, unseeded Stillwater seemed unthreatening to the rest of the field.
Tell that to the Ponies.
After an 8-4 upset of No. 2 seed Forest Lake in the quarterfinals, Stillwater used a 16-hit attack to oust third-seeded Buffalo in a five-inning 14-4 victory Thursday afternoon. The Ponies, now 15-13, will play Friday in their fifth state title game in program history.
“It’s so exciting and I’m so proud of our team,” said senior Tatiana Tabucol, who drove in five runs against Buffalo. “We definitely had a rough start to the season, and this makes it so much better — you don’t even remember what happened in the (regular season).”
Tabucol had two singles, each driving in two runs. The second one came in the fifth inning when Stillwater scored seven runs and clinched the upset.
The Ponies scored two runs to open the game, but Buffalo (20-3) recovered with a solo home run from Jordan Zrust. Stillwater kept up the hitting, scoring in each of the final three innings.
The Ponies had lost 11 of their last 13 games after a loss to Cretin-Derham Hall to open the postseason. One loss from its season ending, Stillwater has since won eight consecutive games.
“We caught on fire and the kids are starting to believe in themselves,” Stillwater coach Bob Beedle said. “The confidence is there and we’ve just been clicking right now.”
Tabucol said Beedle has continued to hammer the notion that it’s hard to beat a team three times. The Ponies proved it true against Forest Lake, which had defeated Stillwater twice in Suburban East Conference play.
On Friday, Stillwater will aim to prove Beedle’s mantra. The Ponies face top-seeded Park of Cottage Grove, which defeated Stillwater by scores of 1-0 and 10-3 earlier in the season. The Ponies are unbeaten in the state championship game, winning in all four appearances they’ve made in program history.
“We have great tradition and we do play off that,’’ Beedle said. “Stillwater softball is great softball.”
NOTE: Buffalo's Emily Hansen, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, hit her 16th home run of the season, tying the state record, in her team's 10-4 quarterfinal victory over Edina.