Reaching their final form

Marshall continues to peak at the right time with 4-0 win over Saints

Jaina Dekker, Naya Grahn and Jayda Bednarek (Left to right) jog off the field after the final out of Marshall's 4-0 win over St. Peter in the Section 2AAA Softball Tournament at Caswell Field in Mankato on Thursday night.

NORTH MANKATO — After winning each of its first two postseason games on Wednesday, the No. 4 Marshall softball team kept its momentum rolling into Thursday’s Section 2AAA tournament matchup against fifth-seeded St. Peter. Bjella and the Tigers pitched their second consecutive shutout to advance to the main bracket with a 4-0 win, where they will now face top-seeded New Ulm.

Marshall defeated No. 7 Worthington 4-2 and No. 6 Albert Lea in the first day of competition. The back-to-back wins gave Marshall the luxury of needing to win just once to advance while St. Peter would have needed to win twice in a row against the Tigers. The second game would have been played today but Marshall was happy to have a day off from the commute to Caswell Park.

“Playing an extra game doesn’t bother me, it’s the traveling and all the emotion on top of it,” Marshall head coach Stacey Baedke said after the win. “We have eight seniors and it’s their last day of school tomorrow… it was an emotional roller coaster today. We got on the bus and it all hit them that tomorrow’s our last day of school. It’s just like, whoa, so not only do we have to stay focused with softball, but they’re also dealing with huge life changes. So I’m just very proud of them and how they were able to focus today and get the job done.”

Naya Grahn scored the game’s first run when she reached on an error and advanced to second on a wild pitch. From there, Morgan Bjella came up with a clutch double to left-center field to drive in Grahn. Bjella then scored herself when a bobbled ball at first base on a Harley Beek ground ball allowed her to round the corner at third and allowed Beek to reach safely for a 2-0 lead.

Halla Casavan and Jayda Bednarek kept the rally going with a walk and a single to load the bases with no outs and Jaina Dekker singled into shallow left field to give Marshall its third run of the inning before a play at the plate and a strikeout ended the frame.

In the circle, Bjella tossed another gem for the Tigers. The senior pitcher struck out 15 batters without a walk on an efficient 80 pitches, throwing all seven innings while allowing just five hits in the shutout effort.

“I think they have experience in postseason play. Not just in softball, but like we said before, they’re multiple-sport athletes and they know it takes another notch of play to keep playing,” Baedke said of her team’s defensive success as of late. “They know any at-bat, any play can be their last one. We’ve had that conversation with them and they’ve just been punched in and making the plays and it’s just been awesome. They’re playing on another level right now.”

Bednarek got on base with a one-out single in the bottom of the fifth. She advanced to second when Dekker reached on an error and scored on an Olsen ground ball for a 4-0 Marshall lead.

The hit gave Bednarek two hits on the day, trailing only Bjella’s three. It marked the third time in Marshall’s three postseason games this year that she’s reached base multiple times.

“I just stay confident in myself and my batting,” Bednarek said. “In practice, I work a lot on just seeing the pitch better and I think that helps me a lot with loading early and being confident in myself. Then when my teammates are on base and I need to score them, I need to do my job.”

St. Peter loaded the bases with one out in the top of the third with a double and consecutive bunts. Both of the Saints’ bunts were popped up high but defensive miscommunication allowed each of the balls to safely land and the runners to safely reach base. Yet, Bjella came up with consecutive strikeouts to end the inning with the game still locked in a scoreless tie.

Halla Casavan drew a leadoff walk to start the second inning and Jaina Dekker reached base after the St. Peter first baseman couldn’t handle the throw after she laid down a bunt.

A passed ball allowed Casavan and Dekker to reach second and third but the second strikeout of the inning put two down when Claire Allen stepped up to bat. She lined a ball right back at the pitcher but the pitcher recovered and lobbed the ball to first in time to get the out and end the inning.

Marshall, now holding a 17-6 record on the season, advances to the main bracket of the Section 2AAA tournament with the win. They’ll open the winner’s bracket semifinals when they take on New Ulm (17-3) at Caswell Park on Saturday at 10 a.m. With a win, they would play the winner of No. 2 Mankato East and No. 3 Mankato West at noon. With a loss, they would play the loser of that game in the elimination bracket.

“We play well when we’re less stressed, so we want to stay focused but still play loose,” Bednarek said. “Our confidence is there mostly every at-bat, every play usually. We just work each other up a lot and we know that our teammates are going to make the play.”

New Ulm has defeated Marshall in each of the teams’ head-to-head matchups this year by final scores of 3-1 and 3-0. Despite the losses, Marshall out-hit New Ulm 5-3 in the first game and 4-1 in the second, but five Marshall errors compared to two for New Ulm over the course of the games has made a difference.

“[We just have to] keep doing what we’re doing. Honestly, this is the team that I’ve been waiting to see all season,” Baedke said. “We’re putting it all together at the right time. If we can do that on Saturday, we’re going to be unstoppable.”


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