Rangers slug past C-I in section opener

7AAA softball finals set for today in Forest Lake

Michelle LaCasse fires a pitch home during the section quarterfinal against Cambridge-Isanti. (Photo by Clint Riese)

Clint Riese
Sports Editor

The four-time defending Section 7AAA softball champs looked the part as the postseason opened last Friday. Top-seeded Forest Lake blasted Cambridge-Isanti 10-0 in six innings.

The home win advances the Rangers to this Wednesday’s round of four at Fenway Athletic Park in Forest Lake. (See www.forestlaketimes.com for coverage.)

The ninth-seeded Bluejackets beat Anoka in a play-in game last Tuesday, then hung around for much of the quarterfinal matchup before Forest Lake used a huge sixth inning to end the game.

The frame opened with consecutive bunt singles by Micah McGuiness, Mikayla Watters, KP Palo and Maggie Forsell, making the score 7-0. One out later, the Bluejackets mishandled throw-out attempts on back-to-back ground balls, allowing two more runs to score.

With two outs, McGuiness smacked a base hit to plate the 10th run.

“Offensively, it took us a little while to really get going but we had some clutch hitting and some nice bunts for base hits,” coach Angie Ryan said.

Meanwhile, the visitors blew chances with runners in scoring position in the fourth and fifth innings and were otherwise shut down over five innings by Michelle LaCasse. The junior gave up only three hits. McGuiness added an inning of hitless relief.

“All aspects of the game looked sharp today other than a couple of baserunning miscues,” Ryan said. “Our pitching and defense looked great.”

The pitching was backed by early run support. Forest Lake jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Nelson slapped a one-out single and stole second. Dana Mogren then walked and both runners moved up a base on a wild pitch. Jenn Zidar came through with a single which plated both runs.

In the third inning, Nelson hit a two-out double and Mogren followed with a hit up the middle that Nelson scored on to make it 3-0.

That score held until the bottom of the fifth, when Nelson again sparked a rally. With two out and a runner on second base, she hit a ground back to the pitcher. Hustling all the way, she beat the pitcher to first base by half a step and the run scored. Seeing that no one was covering second base, Nelson raced to it at the end of the play. That proved important because Mogren singled on the next play and Nelson made it home.

Ryan was excited to see Nelson have a big day at the plate. The 2011 first-team all-state second baseman was limited by an injury early in the season but now has an on-base percentage of .431 and is batting .288. Ryan said Nelson benefitted from a recent practice session with former Ranger Andrea Dunrud, a fellow slapper who is a junior on the University of St. Thomas squad.

Forest Lake, now 20-1 and ranked second in the state, faces the fourth-seeded Greyhounds from Duluth East (13-8) at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. In the other game, second-seeded Duluth Denfeld (16-3) takes on No. 3 seed St. Francis (15-5). The winners meet at 3 p.m. The victor of that matchup has two chances to win the section title in the championship round which starts at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, May 31.

The Class AAA state tournament will take place next Thursday and Friday in North Mankato.