NORTH MANKATO -- Once it overcame some early jitters, the Lourdes softball team was rock solid at the Class AA state tournament on Thursday and now the Eagles will play for a state championship.
The second-seeded Eagles won a pair of games in the eight-team tournament at Caswell Park in North Mankato to advanced to Friday's state championship game. Lourdes got off a a slow start in the quarterfinals but rebounded to topple Annandale 8-6 and later in the day it pulled another tight victory, slipping past No. 3 Pipestone 2-1 in the state semifinals.
The Eagles, playing at the state softball tournament for the first time, will meet No. 1 Norwood-Young America for the championship at 2 p.m. Friday in North Mankato.
"We're so excited," said Lourdes senior Anna Taylor, who pitched the Eagles to victory in both games.
It took the veteran Lourdes squad -- which features eight seniors -- a few innings to settle in at the state tournament.
"The girls were a little tight right away, I could tell," Lourdes coach Becky Macken said. "This is a different stage, they've never been here before. But we talked about responding to adjustments and they responded quite well."
"I think we had we all had those few butterflies at first, but I think we came in here pretty confident," Lourdes senior left fielder Linda O'Connell said.
In the quarterfinals against unseeded Annandale, the first seven Lourdes hitters were retired and the Eagles were trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the third inning before the bottom of the order picked the team up. No. 8 hitter Veronica Taylor singled with one out in the third inning and O'Connell followed with a two-run homer to right-center, her second of the season, to tie the score.
"She had two strikes on her, I think, and we told her 'You've got to be aggressive and protect it.' And she swung hard on that outside pitch and it went over," Macken said.
"It takes us a while to adjust to a pitcher sometimes, but we usually do," O'Connell said. "I just kind of took the first one I saw; might as well go up there swinging."
Lourdes was trailing again 3-2 heading into the bottom of the fifth. The Eagles then collected six of their eight hits in the inning and scored six times to take an 8-3 lead. Freshman Elizabeth Pike had two hits in inning. She started the rally with a single and scored, and then ended it with an RBI single to plate the Eagles' final run of the inning.
After a costly Annandale error, Margaret Rogers tied the game with an RBI single in the fifth. Ashley Krom snapped a 3-3 tie with a two-run single with two outs and the bases loaded. Anna Taylor, Karin Hayford and Pike all added RBI singles to plate three more runs.
"We had to score when we had the (chances)," Macken said. "That's why you play seven innings."
"All season once we get the bats going we rally pretty well," O'Connell said.
It turned out the Eagles needed the runs. Annandale (17-9) loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh inning and proceeded to score three runs. It had the tying run at the plate before Anna Taylor got the final out on a fly to center.
"I think we handled ourselves pretty well," O'Connell said. "We've been in a lot of situations where we've had to come back and handle it."
TAYLOR IN CONTROL
Taylor was in control on the mound for much of the semifinal win over Pipestone. She tossed a four-hitter and only allowed an unearned run in the seventh inning with Lourdes holding a 2-0 lead.
"I knew I had to trust my defense going into that one," Taylor said. "It was my second game of the day so I knew I had to leave it to them to make the plays and they did."
"She pitched so much better the second game than the first game," Macken said. "She really dialed in and was very composed again."
Taylor said she was a little more efficient with her pitches in the second game, when she struck out six and walked one. She also said she felt more at ease on the mound.
"I really had to trust myself more because I was getting a little nervous in the first game," she said. "I was getting a little uptight so I definitely trusted myself and my defense more (in the semifinals).
"I think we were all a lot less nervous and a lot more excited for the second game," she added.
Offensively, the Eagles collected nine hits against Pipestone but had to settle for two runs. They were often close to breaking the game open, but stranded seven runners, five in scoring position.
"One hit here or there and we probably score three or four more runs," Macken said.
The bottom of the order helped the Eagles again in the semifinals. O'Connell, again hitting ninth, was 1-for-1 with two walks. She walked a scored on Katie Virgin's two-out single in the third to put Lourdes up 1-0.
Pike, who was called up from the junior varsity with two games left in the regular season, had another two-hit game in the semifinals. After Ashley Krom opened the sixth with a single Pike, batting seventh, drove her in with a two-out double.
"We had good run production from the bottom of our order," Macken said.
The Eagles take a 24-3 into the title game against Norwood-Young America (25-2).
"We've never been here but we've seen a lot of softball so hopefully we'll give our kids a good game plan," Macken said.
Lourdes 8, Annandale 6
Annandale 002 010 3 -- 6 8 3
Lourdes 002 060 x -- 8 9 2
ANNANDALE: Emmarie Yeager 3-for-4, 1 3B, 2 R; Faith Thrun 2-for-3, 1 R; Josey Marquette 2-for-4, 2 RBI; Jennah Groth 1-for-4, 2 RBI; Morgan Jones 1-for-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI; Alison Helget 1-for-2, 2 R. Pitchers: Paige Fasching 4 2/3 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K; Morgan Jones 1 1/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K.
No. 2 LOURDES: Margaret Rogers 1-for-4, 1 RBI, 1 R; Alyssa Ustby 1-for-4; Ashley Krom 1-for-2, 2 RBI, 1 R; Anna Taylor 1-for-3, 1 RBI; Karin Hayford 1-for-3, 1 RBI; Elizabeth Pike 2-for-3, 1 RBI, 1 R; Veronica Taylor 1-for-2; Sonya Schroeder 2 R; Linda O'Connell 1-for-2, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R. Pitcher: Anna Taylor (WP) 7 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 K.
Lourdes 2, Pipestone 1
Lourdes 001 001 0 -- 2 9 1
Pipestone 000 000 1 -- 1 4 0
No. 2 LOURDES: Margaret Rogers 2-for-4; Alyssa Ustby 1-for-4; Katie Virgin 1-for-4, 1 RBI; Ashley Krom 1-for-4, 1 R; Karin Hayford 1-for-2; Elizabeth Pike 2-for-3, 1 2B, 1 RBI; Linda O'Connell 1-for-1, 1 R. Pitcher: Anna Taylor (WP) 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K.
No. 3 PIPESTONE: Paige Ahrendt 2-for-3, 1 2B, 1 R; Mara Taubert 1-for-3; Adrianna Johnson 1-for-2, 1 RBI. Pitcher: Adrianna Johnson (LP) 7 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K.