Stillwater captains Alex Ehde (left) and Tatiana Tabucol (right) deliver the Class 4A state championship trophy to their teammates. Photo: Shari L. Gross ¥ firstname.lastname@example.org
NORTH MANKATO — Leaving their hotel for the state tournament on Thursday, several Stillwater players were greeted by Adrian Wagner, coach of Class 3A entrant Benilde-St. Margaret’s, who admitted his amazement at their unprecedented journey to that point.
Thirty-six hours later, it was even more amazing.
After losing 10 of their last 12 regular season games, Stillwater opened Class 4A section play with a loss. Then the Ponies won six consecutive games to even their record at .500 and earn an improbable trip to Caswell Park in North Mankato.
“No matter how bad your season’s going or how tough it gets,’’ Wagner told his team, “anything can happen.”
Stillwater then defeated No. 2 Forest Lake in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Buffalo in the semifinals on Thursday. On Friday they delivered a 5-1 victory over No. 1 seed Park of Cottage Grove to claim the program’s fifth state title.
“We knew coming here was a big deal,” Stillwater senior Alex Ehde said. “Our coach told us to go with the flow ride the wave. This is a privilege to be here.”
Coach Bob Beedle said staying positive and buying into development proved difficult through the bumpy regular season.
“You learn from your failures and failures create opportunities — we all know that’s true — but it’s awful difficult when you’re going through a (losing) stretch. It takes a lot of character try to feed into that,” Beedle said.
The Ponies (16-13) avenged two Suburban East Conference losses to Park of Cottage Grove, which won the league title. While the Wolfpack’s dominance was steady through the season, the Ponies didn’t find their stride until it mattered most.
Stillwater tallied 28 hits in the first two games of the tournament and stayed hot on Friday. Freshman pitcher Allison Benning hit a RBI double in the bottom of the first inning for the game’s first score. Ehde added a two-run home run in the second inning to give Stillwater a commanding 4-0 lead.
Park of Cottage Grove (25-2) had outscored its tournament foes 19-0 through the first two rounds. But Benning and a valiant Ponies defense held the Wolfpack to three hits through six innings and a season-low one run.
The Wolfpack had a chance to tie the game in the seventh inning with the bases loaded. But Delaney Young flied out to right field and the Ponies tagged a runner caught between second and third base for a game-ending double-play.
Park of Cottage Grove coach Bob Loshek said his young team didn’t have the poise to make the right plays in the seventh.
“We just saw (Stillwater) a few weeks ago,” Loshek said, referring to his team’s 10-3 win over the Ponies on May 11. “They made spectacular plays today and played like champions today.”
The Ponies, unbeaten in five state championship games, set a state record for most losses held by a state champion with 13.
“I don’t this is going to be broken in this lifetime of mine or probably my next lifetime,” Beedle said.
Unseeded Stillwater took an early lead and cruised to the program’s fifth state championship with a 5-1 victory over No. 1 Park of Cottage Grove Friday afternoon at Caswell Field in North Mankato.
The Ponies (16-13) avenged two losses to their Suburban East Conference counterpart in the regular season, one in which Stillwater lost 10 of its last 12 games before an improbable playoff run.
Pitcher Allison Benning hit a RBI double in the bottom of the first inning for the first run of the game. Eighth-grader Morgan Wohlers' single scored Benning to give Stillwater a 2-0 lead.
A two-run home run from Alex Ehde in the second inning extended Stillwater’s advantage as Benning and the Ponies defense played with confidence in the latter innings.
The Wolfpack scored a run in the top of the seventh and had the bases loaded with one out. Delaney Young flied out to right field and the Ponies tagged a runner to clinch the victory.
Benning allowed six hits and struck out two for the victory.
Bryanna Olson took the loss for Park of Cottage Grove (25-2), allowing two hits and two runs in the first inning. Samantha Fohrman threw five innings in relief, giving up seven hits and three runs and striking out three.
Check back later for more on the game.