The North Lakes Academy softball team completed a flawless run through the first-ever Twin Cities Athletic Conference softball season by defeating the Charter Stars 11-1 in the league championship game at the Columbus City Fields on May 12.
“Winning the conference is a huge deal for our team, but I’ve really focused on the fact that seasons aren’t defined by medals and trophies; it’s about the intensity you bring to every game,” head coach Christopher Stewart said. “Athletes sometimes play down to their opponents, but I’m always harping, don’t take our foot off the gas.”
The Huskies had the honor of hosting the TCAC tournament on their home field. The Stars scored their run in the top of the first but made very little headway against eighth-grade pitcher Emma Crandell thereafter: The Stars only collected two hits altogether. The Huskies, by contrast, put up crooked numbers in three of their four at-bats in the game which, like most of their outings this year, was shortened by the mercy rule.
Crandell led off the bottom of the first with a walk. Seventh-grade catcher Mack Hansen, filling in for absent co-captain Hailey Fletcher, hit a single, then freshman shortstop Hannah Jensen was struck by Ciel Groff’s pitch to load the bases. Junior second baseman and co-captain Maggie Thiele earned a walk to force in the tying run.
Junior first baseman Claire Flaherty grounded into a fielder’s choice that saw Hansen forced out at home, but freshman left fielder Keegan Miller ripped a single that knocked in two more runs.
The Stars held the Huskies hitless in the second, and Groff got Jensen to fly out to open the third. Consecutive singles by Thiele, Flaherty and Miller filled up the bases before junior third baseman Sydney Young was called out on an infield fly.
With two outs, the bottom of the order came through. Freshman right fielder Bailey Kohnen drove in one run with a single, then senior center fielder Samarah Thornberg drove in two.
The Husky defense was nearly impenetrable. Charter school fielding can often be imperfect, due to the schools’ low enrollments forcing teams to play inexperienced players. The Huskies, however, had no problems in the TCAC final, catching every fly and fielding every grounder.
The defensive play of the game came at third base: With the Stars hoping to start a rally in the fourth, Young snagged a low, screaming liner out of the air to turn a likely double into a loud out.
“That was the best defensive performance we’ve put together,” Stewart said. “We absolutely shut them down.”
Jensen walked to start the fourth inning and was promptly escorted home by Thiele’s RBI double. Flaherty walked, and with one out, a Young single, a Kohnen triple and a Thornberg single brought four runs home to bring the scoreline to its final mark.
Crandell shut out the Stars in the top of the fifth, and the was game was called due to the Huskies’ 10-run lead.
“We put a lot of work into this season,” Thiele said. “We had a lot of young girls, and I didn’t think it was going to end up this way. We’ve really improved, and we’re going to go ahead with our best foot forward and try to pull out some more wins.”
Thiele, Flaherty, Crandell and Jensen were named to the All-Conference team. The Huskies and Stars shared the league’s Sportsmanship Award,
Five TCAC schools currently field a softball team, four of which entered the championship tournament. Stewart hopes his program can be a leader as the conference grows in the years to come.
“We really want to support (the TCAC) and our conference opponents,” Stewart said. “We want them to look at our program and see that girls can go from not being able to throw the ball to catching line drives and hitting home runs.”
The Huskies had battered the Academy for Science Agriculture 24-1 in the semifinal earlier in the week, with Thiele picking up the win on the mound. The Huskies were 13-0 at press time and attempting to close out a perfect regular season with an away game at Chesterton Academy on May 16. The Section 4A playoffs begin on May 18. In the first round, the Huskies are matched up against St. Paul Humboldt, a team they defeated 18-3 in a tournament game on April 22.