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Zumbrota-Mazeppa's Amber Jentsch and head coach Kevin Nelson celebrate her two-run home run in the sixth inning Monday against Cannon Falls. The Cougars secured a 4-0 victory in the first round of the Section 1AA West sub-section playoffs. Photo by Chris Harrell

Softball: Jentsch and Olson power Z-M to win over Cannon Falls

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ZUMBROTA - Zumbrota-Mazeppa head coach Kevin Nelson said he could tell Amber Jentsch was finally feeling comfortable at the plate after she ripped two line drives in the Cougars' final regular season game.

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"She hasn't had the statistics this season like she's had in past years but she's still hitting the ball well," Nelson said. "After the last game, I told her, 'Amber, you're going to carry us in the playoffs.'"

Jentsch rewarded Nelson's confidence with a mammoth two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning as second-seeded Z-M blanked seventh-seeded Cannon Falls 4-0 Monday during the first round of the Section 1AA-West sub-section playoffs.

"She just crushed that one," Nelson said. "That definitely was a no doubter."

With just eight hits between the two teams, Jentsch's home run was the definite turning point. It also kept the Cougars from suffering another first-round upset like last year against Pine Island.

"It felt really good," Jentsch said. "I was looking just for a hit or a walk, I guess anything. It looked good."

Jentsch finished 1-for-3, Carley Henning was 1-for-2 with a run scored and Morgan Olson went 2-for-3 with a stolen base to lead Z-M (19-1). Olson was nearly unhittable in the pitcher's circle, allowing two hits and one walk to go along with seven strikeouts.

"We don't see a lot of left-handers and she keeps the ball low," Cannon Falls head coach Mike Gunderson said. "She did a good job of tying our hitters up."

Lydia Franken reached base twice for the Bombers (6-11) in three at-bats, including a single, and Jordan Kasa had the other base hit. Besides the one hiccup against Jentsch, Franken kept the powerful Cougars off-balance. She allowed three earned runs in six innings and had 10 strikeouts.

"It was kind of like last year, we had a tough draw out of the shoot," Nelson said of facing Franken. "She's a tough pitcher. You could tell early in the game ... runs were going to be tough to come by."

Cannon Falls had a tough start in the first inning as Olson bunted for a base hit and advanced to second on an errant throw by Franken. After a groundout advanced Olson to third, Tayler Mort reached first on a fielder's choice as Olson scored ahead of the throw to home. Mort gave Z-M a 2-0 lead as she stole second, went to third on an error by the catcher and continued on home when the throw from center field missed the cutoff.

"It's not the way you want to start the game," Gunderson said. "It set the tone but I thought we settled in around the fourth inning and we didn't let it unravel."

In the third inning, the Bombers had a mistake in the batting order that wiped out a leadoff base hit by Jen Lorentz. The Bombers wrote out the lineup with the flex player and designated player switched.

"That's my mistake," Gunderson said. "But we've been doing it this way all season."

Jordan Kasa followed with a single and Sami Cromer laid down a sacrifice bunt, moving Kasa to second base, but a ground out by Becca Vandenheuval ended the threat.

Cannon Falls went down in order the next three innings and the Cougars put one runner on base until Jentsch's home run in the sixth inning.

"At 2-0, they're a bloop and a blast away from tying it," Nelson said. "The game was far from over in my mind."

Franken led off the seventh inning with a single for the Bombers and made it to third before Olson got Anna Rapp to fly out to right field to end the game.

Jentsch said the team's loss last week to Kasson-Mantorville had the team down for a game but now that playoffs have started, everything is back to normal. The final goal is still attainable.

"Their goal obviously is to win a state championship," Nelson said. "Are they capable? Yes, but we'll have to wait and see. We just have to put a run together and see what happens."

The Cougars will host No. 3-seed Byron for the sub-section semifinals Wednesday at 5 p.m. The Bears defeated sixth-seeded Pine Island 6-5 on Monday in Pine Island.

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Chris Harrell
Chris Harrell is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he interned at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and The Daily Caller in Washington, D.C. For updates on local sports, follow Chris on Twitter at @RECHarrell.
(651) 301-7879
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