In the second matchup of the season between the Armstrong and Cooper softball teams, the two intercity rivals played for much more than simply bragging rights.
After each team lost one game in the double-elimination Section 6, Class 4A tournament, the Falcons and Hawks battled with the end of a season on the line.
Armstrong got off to an early 6-0 lead, but Cooper battled back late to give the Falcons a fright before Armstrong was able to walk away with a 7-5 victory.
“The great thing about winning today is we get to be together for one more day,” Armstrong head softball coach Joe Fittante said. “Hopefully we will get to be together for another day after tomorrow, but we have to take it game-by-game.”
Cooper scored three runs in the third and two in the fifth to push the Falcons.
“Given another inning or two, I think we would have found a way to beat them,” Cooper head softball coach Erin Brown said. “We were putting the pressure on every inning, we left a lot of runners on base, unfortunately.
“Much like that other Armstrong game, this was a great game.”
The Falcons kicked off the game in style, as they scored six runs in the first inning to get off to a good start.
“I thought we hit a couple balls that weren’t hit hard but were base hits, so that allowed us to run the bases well and score some additional runs,” Fittante said. “We had some timely hitting with some lucky placement of balls.”
After getting off to its hot start, the Falcons struggled against Cooper pitcher Rae Beaner, who threw Armstrong off with her off-speed pitches.
“Our hitters were matching the speed of her changeup with their swings,” Fittante said. “They need to learn to wait for the ball and have a normal swing.”
Danielle Sorenson led the Falcons by batting 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Mary Isaak (1-for-3 with one run scored and two RBIs), Leah Baker (2-for-3 with one RBI) and Maggie Hanson (2-for-3 with one RBI) led the Falcon offense.
With the win, Armstrong was set to play Wayzata for an opportunity to earn a spot in the section title game. In order to get in that spot, Fittante knew his team would have to play a certain type of softball.
“We just have to continue to play consistently,” Fittante said. “We had six good innings and one bad inning and that one bad inning almost cost us.
“If they continue to play consistently and we continue to get good pitching, we will be in good shape.”
Armstrong’s 2017 softball season ended with a 12-10 loss to Wayzata May 31.
After starting the game with a six-run deficit, Brown said the key to her team’s success was staying calm and making sure it was having fun. Had this game taken place earlier in the year, Brown does not believe her team would have taken the same approach.
“We tend to, even with one or two runs difference, we disappear, get a little timid,” Brown said. “We totally could have caved after that first inning, but we came back and battled, which is one of the fun things we saw come out of this.
“We saw kids still get on base every inning, people took care of the ball and Rae pitched an outstanding game after she came in. They found a way to put it together, but we just ran out of time.”
Eliot Zubich led the Hawks with a 2-for-4 day with four RBIs, while Ally Adams went 4-for-4 with one RBI.
On the mound, Rae Beaner came on in relief and allowed just four hits, one walk and one run in five and two-thirds innings. She struck out two batters.
Beaner, the lone senior, played her final game with the Hawks.
“She has been here since she was a seventh-grader, she is the heart and soul of this team,” Brown said. “We’re losing more than just a player and a pitcher with her.”
Despite having the season come to an end, Brown believes the Hawks ended the season in a much better place than when they started it.
“I feel like we have definitely made a good turn from where we were,” Brown said. “We were in a tough spot, everybody was dragging, we were struggling big time, then two-thirds of the season we had to go with not as much wins or losses, but just going out, having fun and playing softball.
“They had to do it for themselves, not for anybody else, and it seemed to help.”
With so many players returning next season, Brown hopes her team takes advantage of playing summer fastpitch in order to prepare for success in 2018.
“I am really hoping these kids can see the success they could have and that they make an effort in the offseason,” Brown said. “That’s where we run into trouble, not everybody plays in the offseason and that is where the growing and development happens.
“You don’t have to play all year round, but at least in the summers to get an extra 65 games in.”
Contact Chris Chesky at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris.