NORTH MANKATO — The difference between St. Charles’ first-ever state title and second place was mere inches.
First, a glove that robbed Mya Omdahl’s would-be go-ahead grand slam in the fifth. Then, the foul line, keeping Lauryn Delger’s would-be tying slam off the board in the seventh. And as the winning run and her team’s last hope, Eva Anderson watched a pitch barely catch the black of the plate for the final out.
Those close calls prevented the Saints from coming out victorious, and their magic spring came to a close in second place. All the while, LeSueur-Henderson clinched its first Class AA state championship with a 7-4 win over St. Charles.
“It stings, but we competed,” first-year head coach Adam Gust said.
The fifth inning brought the first sign of tension. Down 6-1, the Saints (24-5) put two on, and both runners came around with two outs. Then, they loaded the bases for Omdahl, who doubled in the fourth.
She turned on a pitch from Chloe Brandt and sent it deep to left-center field, the ball looking to have just enough steam to clear the wall for a go-ahead grand slam. But the Giants’ Halle Bemmels flashed across the outfield and lept at the fence, hauling in Omdahl’s knock and keeping her team in front.
St. Charles was starting to get to Brandt, who, save for a first-pitch Grace Buringa homer leading off the game, had fooled the Saints through the first four innings.
“The whole season, we said, we don’t care who we’re playing, what the score is … we just want to compete,” Gust said. “Our girls, they competed their butts off today.”
But Brandt struck out 13 for L-H and got critical outs and a few lucky breaks when she needed it most. The Giants’ offense boosted her, too, jumping out with three first-inning runs. L-H then slowly added on, with another run in the third and two more in the fourth.
Bemmels padded her team’s lead by scoring on a wild pitch in the sixth, leaving the Saints to settle for dramatics once more in the seventh.
They quickly got to Brandt, loading the bases with no outs for the heart of their order. That’s when Delger slugged a pitch down the left field line that easily cleared the fence, but sliced ever-so-narrowly foul.
Delger settled for an RBI single, bringing St. Charles’ deficit to three and the go-ahead run to the plate. But Jade Krenik struck out looking. Omdahl fought but popped out. And Brandt’s last pitch dipped just across the outside corner and froze Anderson, sparking celebration for the Giants (24-1) and heartbreak for the Saints.
The young St. Charles squad was ultimately outclassed by a veteran L-H team, but its fight left an impression on Gust.
And with the Saints set to return seven of nine starters next year, this might just be the beginning.
“You hope these younger girls appreciate what it took to get here,” he said. “If we’re fortunate enough to come back here again, our girls realize that nothing’s given to you. You have to earn everything.”