Tigers look for revenge against No. 1 New Ulm

Section softball previews May 25, 2024

MANKATO — The Marshall softball team will look to buck the trend when it takes on New Ulm in the Section 2AAA winner’s bracket semifinals today at Caswell Park.

Heading into the matchup, New Ulm has earned a 17-3 record on the season, including a pair of victories over the Tigers. The Eagles started the season on a 10-game winning streak and won five of their last six regular-season games — the exception being a loss to Owatonna — to earn the top seed in the section tournament and a bye past the play-in tournament.

Marshall, meanwhile, enters the matchup on a five-game win streak. The Tigers earned the No. 4 seed in the section, leaving them one slot shy of the bye and forcing them to earn their way into the final four through the play-in bracket. Still, while New Ulm has had time off to rest up, Marshall took the opportunity to heat up. After a 4-2 win over No. 7 Worthington to start the play-in, they shut out No. 6 Albert Lea and No. 5 St. Peter to pick up a pair of 4-0 wins and head into today’s matchup with momentum.

Morgan Bjella has been on fire on the mound for the Tigers. She struck out the side in the Tigers’ postseason opener to earn a save and tossed complete-game shutouts in each of the last two wins. She allowed just six hits and no walks across the two games while striking out 28 out of the 48 batters she’s faced in the starts.

She’s also had plenty of help from her defense; Marshall totaled 10 errors in their final five regular-season games, committing at least one in each game, but they are yet to commit one in the section tournament.

Brielle Riess and Jayda Bednarek have been consistent at the plate for the Tigers so far in their postseason run. Each of the batters has four hits so far in the tournament, tying Bjella for a team-high. Riess is also one of three Tigers with an extra-base hit so far, alongside Mackenzie Olsen and Halla Casavan, while Bednarek is the only Tiger to successfully reach base multiple times in each game so far.

New Ulm defeated Marshall 3-0 in New Ulm and 3-1 in Marshall during the regular season. Still, while the Eagles won both games, they didn’t dominate. Marshall outhit the Eagles in each of the games, claiming a 5-3 advantage in the first game and a 4-1 advantage in the second. Still, four Tiger errors in the second game made the difference; after three unearned runs in the fifth inning of game 2 handed a win to New Ulm, the Tigers will need to remain focused in the field to hold on for a win this time around.

First pitch for today’s game at Caswell Park is scheduled for 10 a.m. The winner of the game will face the winner of No. 2 Mankato East and No. 3 Mankato West at noon with the opportunity to clinch a berth into the section championship game while the losers of the games will play each other in the elimination bracket.

3A winner’s bracket

No. 1N LQPV vs. No. 2S RTR

MARSHALL — The No. 2S Russell-Tyler-Ruthton softball team showed off its depth in Day 1 of the Section 3A softball tournament on Thursday with four players hitting home runs in a pair of wins over No. 7 Adrian-Ellsworth and No. 3 Wabasso. Now the Knights will look to continue to build on those explosive offensive abilities as they take on the North’s top seed, Lac qui Parle Valley, in the winner’s bracket semifinals today.

Last time out, the Knights defeated Adrian-Ellsworth 10-0 in five innings and Wabasso 2-1 in the full seven. Gabi Borresen and Laken Baartman each homered in the first game while Daryssa Cruz and Kya Alderson each homered in the second. Borresen and Cruz, a senior and a sophomore, had never hit a varsity home run before while Baartman’s was her 12th of the season. 

Cruz’s homer was also particularly impactful as the two-out solo blast proved to be the deciding blow in the win over Wabasso, snapping the Knights’ four-game head-to-head skid against the team that beat the Knights twice in last year’s section tournament to end their season.

As a team this season, the Knights have put together a 19-3 record to earn the No. 2 seed in the section’s South bracket. They’ve also been hot at the right time, winning six consecutive games since they lost to Wabasso on May 13. They’ve shut out four of those six opponents and allowed more than one run just once in a 5-4 win over Murray County Central.

The driving force of that defensive success has been Alderson’s play in the circle. The senior pitcher and Minnesota West commit has compiled a 0.90 ERA and 0.69 WHIP while pitching all 124 2/3 of the Knights’ innings in the regular season. She struck out 256 batters on the year, 54% of the batters she faced, and continued that same success into the postseason by striking out 10 of the 16 batters she faced in a no-hitter against Adrian-Ellsworth and 13 of the 23 batters she faced in a one-hitter against Wabasso.

At the plate, Alderson’s 1.692 OPS is second only to Baartman’s 1.899 mark. Just a freshman, Baartman is already the RTR program leader in home runs and has continued to produce when it matters. Beyond just her ability to crush the ball beyond the fence, she’s shown plenty of plate discipline with a .671 on-base percentage, second only to Alderson’s .711.

The Knights won their lone matchup of the season against Lac qui Parle Valley by a final score of 1-0. Baartman hit a solo home run with two outs in the first inning to give Alderson all the run support she needed as she struck out 17 batters while throwing a no-hitter. Still, that game took place on April 8, the Knights’ second game of the season, and both teams have had plenty of time to grow and develop since then.

The Eagles earned the top seed on their side of the bracket for a reason. The Eagles have compiled a 16-5 record on the year and have won five of their last six games, the exception being a 1-0 loss to Class AA Minneota/Canby. Each of the Eagles’ last three since has come by six or more runs.

Val Piotter and Maya Sawatzky have been a dynamic duo in the circle for LQPV. Piotter has led the team with 70 1/3 innings pitched on the season, putting together an 8-3 record with a 2.59 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. Sawatzky trails right behind her with 56 1/3 frames tossed and has been perhaps more effective with a 1.49 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 84 strikeouts. In a win over YME on Thursday, Sawatzky struck out 11 batters while holding the Sting to two unearned runs on seven hits.

While the Eagles don’t have the same power at the plate as RTR, they have some sluggers as well. Kendyl Shelstad and Claire Borstad have led the Eagles with a 1.092 and .902 OPS respectively, with Shelstad accumulating a pair of homers and Bostad knocking one out of the park.

First pitch between the Knights and Eagles is scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Marshall Softball Complex. The winner will have until Tuesday to rest and recover when they will take on either No. 1S Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian or No. 3N Renville County West. The loser will play again today in the elimination bracket against an opponent yet to be determined.

3A Elimination bracket

No. 3 Wabasso vs. No. 5 YME

MARSHALL — After each dropping their second-round matchups in the Section 3A softball tournament on Thursday, the No. 3S Wabasso Rabbits and No. 5N Yellow Medicine East Sting know that every game could be their last as they get ready to face off in the elimination bracket today.

The Rabbits have been among the section’s top teams all season long. The 2023 section runners-up compiled a 15-7 record on the season but have stumbled down the stretch after dropping three of their last five games.

Still, the Wabasso losses have all come against quality competition. They dropped games to top-seeded Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian — the reigning section 3A champions — and Class AA Jackson County Central to close the regular season and No. 2 Russell-Tyler-Ruthton knocked the Rabbits out of the winner’s bracket with a 2-1 loss in the second round on Thursday.

Prior to Thursday’s loss, the Rabbits had won four consecutive games against the Knights, including two in last season’s section tournament. This time around, however, RTR got the best of Wabasso in the pitcher’s duel behind a pair of home runs from Daryssa Cruz and Kya Alderson.

The Rabbits still have some power at the plate of their own. Addisyn Hillesheim scored the Rabbits’ lone run on a solo homer in the game, also their lone hit of the second round. They showed even more offensive firepower when Camryn Irlbeck homered and Annabelle Struntz came up with a pair of hits in their postseason opener against No. 6 Tracy-Milroy-Balaton, a 7-5 win to officially keep their season alive until at least the weekend.

Still, the ace in the hole for Wabasso is their pitcher, Avery Carlson. The senior has been consistent throughout her career in the circle for the Rabbits and that’s been particularly true in her senior season, in which she finished the regular season with a 1.53 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 102 strikeouts in 109 2/3 innings in the circle. Her 1.003 OPS and .414 batting average are also both team bests among qualified players. 

YME has had its ups and downs this season, heading into today’s matchup with an 8-13 record. Still, they found their stride at the right time. Prior to their 11-2 loss to top-seeded Lac qui Parle Valley in the second round on Thursday, the Sting had won three consecutive games with an aggregate score of 20-2. Among the wins was a 7-0 victory over No. 4 Benson in the first round of the section tournament.

In the Sting’s postseason opener, Bayli Sneller was electric on the mound for YME. She struck out 17 of the 26 batters she faced in the complete-game shutout, holding the Braves to two hits and one walk. Her 174 strikeouts over 104 innings make her one of the most effective punch-out pitchers in the area and her 2.42 ERA and 1.10 WHIP are both team-bests.

The Sting outhit Benson 11-2 in their last win, including triples from Alana Almich and Kourtney Peterson and two hits from Abbie Winter. Almich also had another hit in the loss to LQPV and leads the team offensively with a .940 OPS and .429 on-base percentage on the season.

The two teams have not met yet this year. They’ll both look to keep their season alive when they get started at the Marshall Softball Complex today at 1 p.m. The winner will continue to compete at 3 p.m. against an opponent yet to be determined.


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