A striking surprise

Bjella becomes first Tiger to reach 500 Ks in senior day sweep

Photo by Jake McNeill: Marshall pitcher Morgan Bjella throws from the mound during a softball game against Windom Area at the Marshall Softball Complex on Thursday night. Bjella became the first Marshall pitcher to hit 500 career strikeouts as the Tigers swept the Eagles in their regular-season finale.

MARSHALL — Morgan Bjella became the first Marshall softball pitcher to eclipse the 500 career strikeout mark in the Tigers’ doubleheader against Windom on Thursday. The senior pitcher threw all seven innings in the first game to lead the Tigers to a 3-0 win and the Tigers battled back for an 8-5 win in game 2.

“It was a great, great team effort. It seemed really hard to get that last one, but they did a great job,” Marshall head coach Stacey Baedke said of the sweep. “I’m really proud of them and it’s a good feeling going into sections next week.”

Bjella’s milestone strikeout came in the top of the seventh inning. She had struck out six batters in the previous two positions to get in position to break the 500 threshold and she didn’t waste the opportunity. After a pop out put one down in the frame, Bjella struck out each of the next two batters she faced to finish the game with 501 career strikeouts.

“I had no idea… I was like ‘Why are they stopping the game?'” Bjella said of her reaction to the accomplishment as the game was momentarily paused to acknowledge the milestone. “I’ts kind of nice, especially since it was our last game here, all of us seniors… I’m just trying to do this for my team, doing the best I can so my team can do the best they can.”

On the day, Bjella struck out 15 batters in the complete-game shutout. She held Windom to three hits and a walk. 

“She’s just in shape. She puts in her time and in the offseason, she’s a multiple sport athlete,” Baedke said when asked about Bjella’s consistency for the team. “She plays volleyball, she plays basketball and I think being involved in all those helps her be in shape for softball and she’s just able to push through.”

Marshall pushed each of its three runs across the plate in the bottom of the first inning. Bjella hit a ground-ball single and advanced to second on an overthrow. In the next at-bat, the Tigers’ good fortune after Harley Beek struck out but the third strike was dropped. She beat the throw over to first as Bjella advanced to third, putting runners on the corners with one out.

Halla Casavan took advantage of the opportunity at the plate by driving in the go-ahead runs. She crushed a ball to straightaway center field that glanced off the tip of Windom centerfielder Elliot O’Donnell’s glove, scoring Bjella and Beek on the double. Jaina Dekker followed up with a ground ball to short but another error allowed Dekker to advance all the way to second safely while driving in Casavan for a 3-0 Tiger lead.

Windom put together its best scoring chance in the top of the sixth inning when a pair of Marshall errors allowed Windom runners on first and second with two outs. Yet, Bjella came up with her third strikeout of the inning to get out of the frame with the shutout still intact. 

Windom only put runners in scoring position twice in the first game. Kadyn Paulson hit a single in the third inning and stole second but consecutive strikeouts ended the frame. They also put two runners on with two outs in the sixth inning, courtesy of a pair of Marshall errors, but Bjella came up with her third strikeout of the frame to keep the shutout intact.

Beek, Jayda Bednarek, Naya Grahn and Brielle Riess each had a single for the Tigers while Riess also stole a base.

Anja Nielsen pitched all six innings for Windom, striking out eight batters while holding Marshall to six hits and no walks. Each of the three runs she allowed was unearned.

Game 2

Marshall 8, Windom 5

Windom struck first in game 2 when Kadyn Paulson beat out a ground ball single and Alivia Letcher beat out a bunt to put two runners on. Tristyn Maras followed up with a single to center field but an error recovering the ball allowed two runners to score and Maras to advance to third. From there, Anja Nielsen came back with the Eagle’s fourth consecutive single to start the inning, driving in Nielsen for a 3-0 Windom lead. 

The Eagles increased their lead in the bottom of the second when Reagan Haugen bunted for a single, stole second and third and scored on a throwing error to give her team a four-run cushion. Still, the Tigers didn’t give up that easily. 

Halla Casavan started the Marshall response with a solo home run to left field to start the top of the third inning. After Jayda Bednarek walked and Jaina Dekker singled, Mackenzie Olsen singled to left field to score Bednarek and Claire Allen did the same to score Dekker, cutting the deficit to just one run.

Marshall completed the comeback in the top of the fourth. Morgan Bjella was hit by a pitch and Casavan singled to put two runners on with two outs. Bednarek came up with the clutch game-tying single to score Bjella and Dekker followed up with another clutch hit to score Casavan for a 5-4 Tiger lead.

“They just made the adjustments when they needed to,” Baedke said of her team’s increased offensive success in game two. “A little bit slower pitcher the second game but I felt like they timed it up right and were able to get the hits when they needed to.”

Harley Beek pitched all seven innings for Marshall and settled down well after her first two frames. She struck out three batters with two walks on the day and allowed five runs on 11 hits. Two of the runs she allowed were unearned.

Brielle Riess helped the Tigers bolster their lead in the top of the fifth. Allen and Naya Grahn were on second and third with no outs after they singled and walked respectively and both advanced on a wild pitch. Riess singled to center field to score Allen and an error by the Eagles allowed Grahn to score too. Beek then hit a sacrifice fly to score Riess for an 8-4 Tiger lead.

Hailey Veenker helped the Eagles get one last run when she doubled and scored on a Haugen single but that 8-5 deficit was as close as Windom would get for the remainder of the game.

“It’s really nice to end with two wins. I was a little nervous there at the end but it turned out fine,” Olsen said with a laugh. “It [being my last home game] hasn’t hit me yet, I think it’ll hit me at the end of the season, but it feels good.”

Casavan led Marshall’s offense with two hits for a team-high five total bases while Dekker added three singles. Allen also reached base three times with a single and two walks. No Tigers recorded multiple RBIs.

Hannah Anderson pitched all seven innings for Windom, allowing seven earned runs and one unearned on 11 hits and three walks. She struck out three batters in the game.

Maras and Haugen each had a pair of hits for the Eagles with Maras’ two RBIs being a game-high. 

“It’s good to see them be able to come back from a deficit like that, and it does seem like it’s a common theme for us,” Baedke said. “It would be nice if we could have not so much of a deficit. Errors are going to happen, hits are going to happen and we know that we just need to do a better job of bouncing back quicker. But yeah, they definitely know how to come back and that’s good going into next week. We know we can do it so anything’s possible.”

Marshall wraps up its regular season with a 14-6 record. The Tigers were particularly strong since the start of May, going 10-3 in the month. They’ll try to carry that late momentum into the postseason as they await their seeding for the section tournament. The Section 2AAA tournament will be held in North Mankato and will begin on Tuesday. 

“These two games definitely put us in the right mindset. We have a lot to work on but we’ll be ready when the time comes,” Olsen said. 


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