‘Let’s keep it rolling into tomorrow’

Marshall defeats Worthington, Albert Lea to start sections

Photo by Jake McNeill: Marshall center fielder Brielle Riess slides into third base during a Section 2AAA softball tournament game against Worthington at Caswell Park in North Mankato on Wednesday. Marshall defeated Worthington 4-2 and Albert Lea 4-0 to cap off a perfect first day in the double-elimination tournament.

NORTH MANKATO — The Marshall Tigers left the first day of the Section 2AAA softball tournament on a high note. The fourth-seeded Tigers opened their postseason with a 4-2 nail-biter win over No. 7 Worthington and followed up with a 4-0 win over No. 6 Albert Lea to finish Day 1 without a loss in the double-elimination tournament.

“The second game was great. We did everything,” Marshall head coach Stacey Baedke said after the pair of victories. “We hit, we bunt, we stole bases, we played defense, we did everything we needed to do that game… Let’s keep it rolling into tomorrow.

With the pair of victories, Marshall will next play the winner of Albert Lea and No. 5 St. Peter today at 7 p.m. With a win, they would play top-seeded New Ulm on Saturday at 10 a.m. With a loss, the two teams would play again with the winner of the rematch going on to play New Ulm.

Game 1

No. 4 Marshall 4, No. 7 Worthington 2

Heading into the fifth inning, the game was all tied up at two runs apiece. With one out, Naya Grahn drilled a ground ball to third base. The grounder went between the third baseman’s legs, allowing her to reach base on the error, and a Brielle Riess single and a Morgan Bjella walk loaded the bases.

Worthington paused the game to talk things over with pitcher Bailey Ponto in the circle. She got each of the next two batters she faced out, but not without the Tigers scoring the go-ahead run; Harley Beek drilled a deep fly ball to center field for the second out of the inning but Grahn tagged up at third to give Marshall a 3-2 lead.

“I just wanted to make sure I was able to pick up the team and get that extra run that we needed for those insurance points and make sure we had a good, solid start,” Beek said.

Beek pitched the first six innings for Marshall. The senior pitcher didn’t allow a ball in play for the first 2 2/3 innings and finished the game with 11 strikeouts and three walks. She held the Trojans to one base hit and two runs in the victory, her fifth of the season.

“I think the energy on the team in general was very good, which was helpful,” Beek said of her outing. “I knew they had my back, which was good from the start.”

Bjella came into the game to start the seventh inning on the circle with the opportunity to earn a save. She struck out each of the three batters she faced to slam the door on the Trojans’ season and seal the Marshall victory.

“I did [expect it to be a close game], actually, because this is the third time we’ve seen them and it’s hard to beat the same team three times,” Baedke said of the matchup against Worthington. “We were ready for them because they seeded us at fifth, the lowest of everybody, because they did not want to play us again. And rightfully so. But yeah, we definitely expected them to come out to play today.

The top of the order got the Tigers on the board in their first turn at bat. Brielle Riess started Marshall off with a leadoff double to center field and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from Bjella. From there, Beek drew a walk, advanced to second and Jayda Bednarek hit a two-run single with two outs to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead.

“It was good to see them have that momentum going right at the get-go,” Baedke said. “We struggled a little bit there in the middle with getting our timing down, [Ponto] was throwing some extra changeups it seemed like, so struggled with that a little bit but we executed when we needed to.”

Worthington answered with a pair of runs of their own to start the third inning. After a leadoff strikeout, Abigail Linder and Ponto walked consecutively and a fielder’s choice put Marin Pederson and Ponto on first and second with two outs.

Hannah McNab didn’t let the opportunity go to waste, driving in both runners with a triple to the right-center field wall to tie the game up at two runs apiece.

Bednarek and McNab tied with a game-high two RBIs while Riess’ two hits were also a game-high.

Ponto pitched the full six frames for Worthington, allowing two earned runs and two unearned on four hits and three walks. She also struck out four batters on the day.

Marshall tacked on one last insurance run in the bottom of the sixth frame. Bednarek beat out a close throw on a ground ball error to get on base and advanced to third base on a Jaina Dekker sacrifice bunt and a Mackenzie Olsen ground out. After a Claire Allen walk put runners on the corners with two outs, Bednarek sprinted home on a passed ball to give the Tigers a 4-2 advantage heading into the final frame.

The Tigers had an opportunity to score the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fourth when Halla Casavan drove a liner to left field for a leadoff double. Jayda Bednarek then laid down a perfectly aimed bunt down the first base line and a bobble from the first baseman allowed her to reach safely.

Yet, Casavan tried to stretch the play into a run but was caught at the plate to put one away and a fielder’s choice and a strikeout left the Marshall scoring opportunity fruitless.

Game 2

Marshall 4, Albert Lea 0

NORTH MANKATO — Morgan Bjella’s near-perfect pitching outing set the tone for Marshall in game 2 as the Tigers locked in defensively to shut out the Albert Lea Tigers for a 4-0 win.

“They are very focused right now. Like I said before, we’ve been talking about that all season,” Marshall head coach Stacey Baedke said. “Being punched in right away from the get-go. We were with Worthington too, we scored first, just struggled a bit at the plate in the middle of the game, but we were able to get it done. I think that’s all because we were ready to go and focused and the mental game was there.”

Albert Lea came into the second game of Wednesday’s section tournament with momentum, having just defeated St. Peter by a score of 7-1 in the opener. Yet, the Marshall Tigers came into the game and looked like the team with the hot bats from the start, jumping out to an early lead to start the first inning and never looking back in the victory.

Just like the first game, Brielle Riess started the game strong with a leadoff hit for Marshall, this time a single to center field. She showed off the wheels by stealing second, advanced to third on a Morgan Bjella groundout and scored on a wild pitch for the go-ahead run.

After earning the save in the first game of the day, Bjella got the start and the victory in game 2. She held Albert Lea without a base runner for the first 4 2/3 frames — a two-out single in the top of the fifth broke up her perfect game — and she finished the day with 13 strikeouts in the seven-inning shutout while allowing just one hit and no walks.

“I just think the momentum from the last game getting us going and just being ready to go right away, I think everyone was really focused this whole entire day,” Bjella said. She added that since Albert Lea isn’t a team she had seen, she tried to just approach the game the same as she would any other. “Just do what we do best, do what I do best, just basically doing that.”

Marshall left two runners stranded in the first inning after Harley Beek walked and Jayda Bednarek reached on a single. Still, the Tigers didn’t let the missed opportunity shake their confidence. Mackenzie Olsen led off the bottom of the second with a leadoff double and advanced on a Claire Allen sacrifice bunt.

A great catch by Albert Lea center fielder Kendra Knutson on a Naya Grahn fly ball to right-center field put two down but as she fell to the ground making the play, Olsen tagged up to score and give Marshall a two-run cushion.

Marshall extended its lead in the bottom of the fifth when Riess hit a leadoff single, stole second and scored on a Bjella ground ball up the middle that found its way to center field. Bjella then stole second, advanced on an Olsen ground out and scored on a Halla Casavan ground out to bring the Tigers’ lead to 4-0.

Riess again led the Tigers with two hits while Olsen accounted for the game’s only extra-base hit. Riess also stole a pair of bases on the day while Bjella and Bednarek each stole one.

In the third inning, Marshall strung together three consecutive hits but couldn’t push a run across the plate. With one out, Harley Beek drilled a ball deep into center field. She tried to turn it into a two-bagger, but she was just a step shy of the throw and was tagged out. From there, Casavan and Bednarek hit consecutive singles but a ground out ended the inning with Marshall’s advantage remaining at two runs.

Marshall is now 16-6 on the season after the pair of wins. As they prepare for another game today, they are now 1-0 on the season against Albert Lea and 1-1 against St. Peter with a 6-0 win and 6-1 loss on April 25.

“I think if we’re just focused and we play how we can play, we’re not going to have any problem scoring runs and playing defense like we did today,” Baedke said. “We need to be focused from the get-go and things will be going our way.”


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