In six years of section play, the Forest Lake softball team improved its record to 23-1 over the weekend with second- and third-round wins in the Section 7AAA tournament in Duluth.
The Rangers wasted no time in a 10-2 win over ninth-seeded Blaine on Saturday morning. Junior Natalie Wright led off with a single, then stole second. The infielder was picked off on a fielder’s choice hit by junior Alexa Bremer. Following a Bremer steal, senior Jenn Zidar hit a double with two outs to bring Bremer home. Sophomore Bailey Armstrong followed with a double to bring in courtesy runner sophomore Emilie Antony. Following a walk to sophomore Kalynn Tilton, junior Mikayla Watters laced a double to make it a 4-0 ball game.
Forest Lake would go on to add six runs in the next six innings, led by Watters who went 3-3 with three RBI and two doubles. Bremer went 3-3 with one RBI and one run scored while Tilton hit 2-3 with three runs scored. Wright also had a productive day at the plate by going 2-4.
Senior Michelle LaCasse was the winning pitcher after completing seven innings, allowing two runs on five hits.
“We did not play our best this game, but it was enough to get the job done,” head coach Angie Ryan said. “It showed that we had not played in a week and that the temperature was in the 40s. However, we did have 14 hits in the game and put 10 runs on the board. It just felt as if we should have ended the game early and could have if we would have had a few more quality plate appearances.”
Forest Lake went on to face fifth-seeded Andover that afternoon., who upset the No. 4-seed St. Francis in the second round earlier on Saturday.
This time it was the Huskies who jumped to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning by hitting two singles, a home run and two more singles off of LaCasse.
The Rangers answered with two runs of their own in the bottom of the first inning when Wright reached base on balls. Senior Dana Mogren ripped a home run to clear the bases.
Andover stretched its lead to four in the top of the third, but Bremer kept the Rangers within two again by singling and stealing second and third base on passed balls. Mogren was hit by a pitch for a first-and-third situation. Mogren stole second, allowing Bremer to cross home plate. Armstrong followed with a double to bring Mogren home to make it a 6-4 game.
The Rangers took the lead an inning later when Watters hit a long ball over the fence to lead off. Junior Taylor Emly and Wright both singled and moved to second and third base on a passed ball. Bremer hit a grounder up the middle and was thrown out, allowing Emly to cross the plate. Mogren followed with a single to bring home Wright as the go-ahead run.
Andover reclaimed the lead in the fifth inning when the Rangers suffered a tough defensive inning to make it an 8-7 game.
The Rangers took off in the fifth inning to take back the lead for the final time.
Armstrong hit the tying home run to lead off, then with two outs, hits by sophomore Taylor Shortly, Emly, Wright, Bremer, Mogren and Zidar upped the lead to five at 13-8.
After scoring another three runs in the sixth inning, Forest Lake won 16-8 to move on to the championship matchup.
LaCasse pitched through five innings, allowing eight runs on nine hits before junior Rachael Harrington came in to pitch in the final two innings to record six outs in order.
Mogren led at the plate for the Rangers, going 3-3 with three RBIs and three runs scored. Wright hit 3-4 with three runs scored and three RBIs while Emly went 3-4 with three runs and one RBI. Watters (two runs and one RBI), Shortly (two runs scored) and Armstrong (two RBIs) all hit 2-4 on the day while Bremer earned three RBIs while going 2-5.
Ryan said her team was in an unusual position with a 4-0 deficit right off the bat, but its offensive aggressiveness at the plate kept it in the game. The head coach said while things started out stressful, it turned into a game to remember and was a “ton of fun” with 18 hits in six innings.
“I was very proud of this team effort and the heart we showed in this game,” Ryan said. “Andover played very well and was sharp offensively. … It was fun to see us beat a good team at their best.”
Forest Lake faced third-seeded and No. 9 (Class AAA) Anoka at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in Chisago Lakes in the section semifinals. The Tornadoes recorded an overall record of 13-2 this season while the Rangers currently sit at 20-2 and No. 3 (Class AAA) in the state behind Lakeville North in first (20-4) and Maple Grove in second (19-1). They are No. 2 in the coaches poll behind the Panthers. The winner moves to the section championship at 3:30 p.m. today, May 30, in Chisago Lakes.