Rangers rout to another section title

Softball team overpowers, completes drive for five

There were smiles all around as Forest Lake won its fifth consecutive Section 7AAA title in town last Thursday. Above: Coach Angie Ryan’s squad poses with the trophy. (Photo by Clint Riese)

Clint Riese
Sports Editor

Forest Lake didn’t just win the Section 7AAA softball tournament – it destroyed it. The Rangers crushed Duluth Denfeld 10-0 in Thursday’s title game, capping a jaw-dropping tournament performance. The team won its fifth straight section title by outscoring its opponents 39-2 over four games.

The Rangers are now 21-1 in section play over their five-year reign, including a current streak of 18 wins in a row. In those five tournaments, they have outscored opponents 157-32.

This time, there was nary a moment of suspense for Forest Lake, which played in town throughout the tournament. After a first-round bye, the top-seed beat ninth-seeded Cambridge-Isanti 10-0 on May 24 to advance into last week’s round of four at Fenway Athletic Park. Last Wednesday, Forest Lake beat fourth-seeded Duluth East 11-1 and second-seeded Duluth Denfeld 8-1.

Thursday’s final saw Forest Lake jump out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Shannon Nelson led off with a single, stole second base and scored on a bloop single by Dana Mogren. Jenn Zidar followed with an RBI double.

That would be more than enough run support for starter Michelle LaCasse. She limited the Hunters to three hits over five innings.

Forest Lake put together four more two-run innings. Zidar ripped a two-run home run to left field in the third. In the fourth, Mikayla Watters led off with a double and scored on an error. Nelson drove in the other run that frame with a bunt single. Watters doubled again with two on base in the fifth to make it 8-0. In the seventh, she singled in a ninth run. An infield single by Lauren Riedeman led to the 10th run.

Micah McGuiness pitched the seventh inning to close out the tournament.

Duluth Denfeld gave Forest Lake a much tougher contest in their regular season meeting in Duluth earlier in May. The Rangers prevailed then, too, but by a single run, 1-0. Coach Angie Ryan felt her team hit the ball hard in that game, but it found a lot of gloves.

In the teams’ two section meetings, the Hunters were just another fly on the windshield in Forest Lake’s drive for five straight state tournament bids.

“In 2008, the first time we went, it was just so exciting because we didn’t know if we could [win the section],” said Ryan. “Now it’s just kind of an expectation, but yet it’s still great to be able to do it. It feels awesome and we just really want to win the state championship. This is just one step closer to that.”

Forest Lake’s best state finish during its current run came last spring, when it lost to Hastings in the title game. The Rangers are ranked No. 2 in the state and have been for most of the season, yet Ryan does not feel her team is regarded as a favorite heading into this week’s eight-team bracket in North Mankato.

“Because we’re northern, or I don’t know what it is…We’re 23-1 or whatever, but I just don’t feel like people have really overly acknowledged what we’ve done this year,” Ryan said. “I still feel like people don’t expect us to win the whole thing and I know we can do it.”

Forest Lake faces Orono in the first round at 11 a.m. Thursday, June 7. The Spartans are unranked despite matching Forest Lake’s record of 23-1.

Only three other ranked schools made the tournament. No. 5 Mankato East faces No. 6 Bloomington Jefferson. Top-ranked Maple Grove takes on Big Lake, with the winner potentially facing the Rangers in a semifinal. In the fourth first-round pairing, Stillwater takes on Farmington. The first-place, third-place and consolation title games take place on Friday.

After years of knocking on the door, the Rangers have just one thought in mind.

“State title or bust, for sure,” said Nelson, a senior captain. “We want the state title, otherwise I don’t think we’ll be happy.”

Rangers 8, Hunters 1

The Rangers made an immediate statement in their final game last Wednesday, an 8-1 win which advanced them to the championship round. They sent 12 batters to the plate in the first inning, taking an 8-0 lead over the shell-shocked Hunters.

Nelson drew a one-out walk and made it to third on a single by Mogren. Zidar then singled down the third-base line, scoring both runners. McGuiness then legged out a double which made it 3-0. Watters tomahawked a double to the center field wall to drive in the fourth run. After KP Palo hit an infield single, Maggie Forsell knocked in the fifth run with a groundout. The sixth run came to the plate on an error. Leadoff hitter Natalie Wright then capped a long at-bat with an infield single, and made it to second base with heads-up baserunning. Nelson then singled up the middle to drive in the seventh and eighth runs.

McGuiness tossed a complete game, allowing one run while striking out seven.

Rangers 11, Greyhounds 1

Forest Lake opened the round of four last Wednesday with an 11-1, five-inning win over Duluth East. The Greyhounds scored first, but not again.

LaCasse allowed three hits. McGuiness was 2-3 with a pair of RBI. Nelson was 2-3 and scored twice.  Watters and Zidar each knocked in two runs.