Softball: Cougars start season with a win
ROCHESTER – With Mother Nature playing the April fool, and The Bubble of the Rochester Regional Stadium playing along, Rochester Century and Zumbrota-Mazeppa had an interesting start to the 2014 softball season.
While the cold wind of winter’s return was blocked by the dome on the campus of Rochester Community and Technical College, that same plastic roof caused more than a few problems as batted balls ricocheted into or out of play.
But the air-supported ceiling, the lack of sand, and fences that could topple with a sneeze, were not enough to deter the Cougars, who rode a stellar pitching performance from Morgan Olson, and a key RBI double from Kaitlen Buck, to a 1-0 victory over the Panthers.
“We were on an infield (Monday), and we took fly balls out on the grass,” Z-M head coach Kevin Nelson said. “We got one practice in outside. But it’s great to be playing. We go three weeks of inside practice, now we get a chance to play a game and we’ll probably be inside for another week or two. I think the girls are just excited to play. We didn’t play a great game all the way around. But we played awfully good defense and we got a great pitching performance. When we needed an out, or needed a strikeout, or needed a good pitch, Morgan came through and did that.”
Olson finished with 11 strikeouts while walking just one batter. Century did manage to get on base in every inning, pounding out eight hits in seven innings. But every time the Panthers threatened, Olson got a strikeout, or the defense came up with a big play.
“I didn’t know how many hits it was, but I was willing to bet they out-hit us,” Nelson said. “We had four hits. I guess if you can score a run with only four hits, I think you’re doing something right, too. Kait Buck came up in a timely situation. She’s a senior, and didn’t get a lot of opportunities last year to bat. She’s a great defensive player, (but) she hasn’t been a great offensive performer. But she was the hero of the day offensively for us, and it’s nice when a senior comes through when (they) have to.”
The fact that just a single run was scored was something Nelson did not see coming.
“I told the girls afterward that I was completely surprised on both ends,” Nelson said. “Our defense was spot on. We played great defense, made some great decisions. I thought maybe we would hit the ball and maybe have some defensive errors because of the lack of playing outside, or getting fly balls or things like that. From that standpoint, it was the direct opposite of what you would think early in the season. But, typically, early in the season, pitchers have the advantage over the hitters.”
That advantage extended even further in The Bubble, where lights about eight-feet tall lined the outer portion of the interior.
“If you were to go and stand and look where the plate is, I’ve never stood there before, but that’s a horrible hitter’s view looking at the pitcher from there,” Nelson said. “But (Century) had to hit there, too, and they out-hit us. Their offense was a little better than our offense, and our defense was a little better than their defense, and you win a game. If you play great defense, you’ll be in every game. You’ll have a chance to win every game if you play great defense. Your offense will be hot at times and cold at times, it will be up and down. We’ve always stressed is let’s play defense first and let’s take our chance on offense.”
The Cougars (1-0) will host Kasson-Mantorville Monday, then visit Byron Tuesday. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m. both days.