Softball: Cougars clinging on in 1AA-West
CANNON FALLS - If Zumbrota-Mazeppa hopes to get back to the state tournament, the Cougars first have to solve the Kasson-Mantorville conundrum.
Through four innings in Friday's Section 1AA-West final, the second-seeded and top-ranked Cougars were able to get out of every jam the No. 1-seeded and fifth-ranked KoMets could put in their way.
But with its back against the wall, K-M flourished, getting eight of the team's nine hits with two outs in a 2-1 victory at Cannon Falls High School.
"That was a great thing to see," KoMets' head coach Jeff Fague said of his team's two-out hitting, "especially now in the playoffs when you're facing good pitching like this, you have to take advantage any time you can."
Looking to stave off elimination in the loser's bracket, the Cougars rebounded with a 6-4 victory against Byron in the second game, keeping their playoff hopes alive.
"We planted the seed early on. We told the girls, 'We could lose a game, but we have to be prepared for the second game and you have to be ready to respond,'" said Z-M head coach Kevin Nelson.
In Game 1, the KoMets' Maddie Damon and the Cougars' Megan Olson dueled it out in the pitcher's circle. Damon struck out 13 and limited Z-M to four hits, while Olson had eight strikeouts.
But when it looked like the Cougars would get out of an inning unscathed, that's when K-M did its damage. The KoMets left five runners on base through the first three innings before finally breaking through in the bottom of the fourth. With two outs, Hanna Sheeran drew a walk and then Abbie Overton hit a liner to center field for a base hit.
With runners on the corners, Z-M had some miscommunication on a pitchout attempt, giving Overton second base on a steal. Danielle Head hit a chopper up the right side that went through the infield, scoring a pair of runs for K-M.
The Cougars were desperate for offense, but they couldn't crack Damon, who held Z-M to two hits in the 1-0 regular-season victory May 13.
Then with one out in the top of the sixth, catcher Tayler Mort gave the Cougars a much-needed lift, putting a Damon fastball over the left-center fence for a solo home run.
"I was thinking, 'I just got to help out my team,'" Mort said of the home run.
Things were looking dire with two outs in the top of the seventh for Z-M when Alyssa Quam stepped up to the plate. Going 0-for-2 up to that point, Quam connected with a deep shot to center that went over the fielder's head, allowing Quam to get to third with a triple. But Damon kept cool against the next batter, striking out Rachel Mensink to end Z-M's hopes for a comeback.
"Every single one of their kids can hit the ball," Fague said of the Cougars. "The key with their team is to keep them off-balance, and with her off-speed pitches, Maddie did a good job of that."
Facing elimination against the Bears in Game 2, Z-M had trouble getting going through the first three innings, being held to just one hit the first time through.
"It's always tough coming back after a heartbreaking loss; it's easier to come up like Byron did through the other bracket," Nelson said. "We knew it was going to be a low-energy affair early on."
But like she did in Game 1, Mort provided the lift that the Cougars needed with a two-run homer that broke up a scoreless game.
The two-run blast sparked a five-run inning for Z-M as Amber Jentsch hit an RBI single and Quam drove in two with a single.
But the Cougars needed every run in that inning when in the top of the fifth, Byron's Vanessa Anderson connected with a grand slam to cut the deficit to one. Anderson went 3-for-3 against Z-M.
In the sixth, Jentsch provided some insurance with a leadoff double, eventually coming home on a Byron error.
The Cougars (21-2) will face Caledonia/Spring Grove Tuesday in Austin in an elimination game. The winner will face the loser of K-M and Winona Cotter afterwards.