Softball: Z-M earns a trip to section finals
AUSTIN, Minn. - Morgan Olson's composure belies her age.
The Zumbrota-Mazeppa ninth-grader is the top pitcher on the No. 1-ranked team in Class 2A and the Cougars' leadoff hitter.
With Z-M needing to win out for a chance at the Class 2A girls state softball tournament, Olson led the Cougars to two victories with stellar pitching and clutch hitting.
Olson threw seven innings in a 4-1 victory against Caledonia/Spring Grove in the first game and pitched another four innings while going 2-for-4 with two triples and the winning run scored in a 3-2 eight-inning win over Winona Cotter in the Section 1AA playoffs at Todd Park.
"Every time Morgan comes up, we know she's going to get on base," Z-M junior Carley Henning said. "She's a great hitter, she knows her spots. We all trust when she's up there that she can lead us on the bases."
In the pitcher's circle, Olson gave up three hits and two walks to go along with four strikeouts against the Warriors, finishing 3-for-4 with a run scored at the plate. Facing the Ramblers, she allowed two runs in four innings with three strikeouts. But her biggest contributions against Cotter came at the plate when Z-M needed her most.
Down 2-0 in the sixth inning against the Ramblers, Olson ripped an RBI triple down the right-field line and scored the tying run on a single by Lydia Wagner. Then, in the eighth inning, she hit a leadoff triple over the right fielder and came across after another single by Wagner.
Wagner, a centerfielder, finished 2-for-4 with two RBI in the second game.
Cotter scored both runs in the fourth inning and had a chance for a third run when Wagner made one of the biggest plays in the doubleheader, throwing a perfect strike to cut down a runner at home to end the threat.
"We made some great plays to keep it at two runs," Cougars' head coach Kevin Nelson said. "When they came in from defense after that inning, I told them, 'Let's make that be the difference in the game.'"
Henning came out to pitch the fifth inning for Z-M and despite not pitching often this season, she battled through four innings to pick up the extra-inning victory. She allowed six hits and one walk while striking out two.
"I was nervous but with my team behind me, I knew I could do it," Henning said. "The atmosphere was great."
"She's been probably itching and waiting for the chance to get in there," Nelson added. "Carley came up big. That's why you need two quality pitchers."
The Ramblers had chances to win the game in the sixth and seventh innings, getting a runner to third base three times. In the sixth inning, a runner was thrown out at home and another was stranded on a strikeout. In the seventh inning, Z-M catcher Mort picked off the potential winning run at third base after scooping a pitch in the dirt.
"That was ball four down in the dirt, might even have been behind the girl," Nelson said. "She scooped it and threw a perfect strike to (Kaitlen) Buck at third. The girl was out and it wasn't even close. She's as good as you'll find catching-wise defensively."
In the final inning, McKenna Marg reached second base with one out but a sacrifice bunt and a strikeout sealed the Cougars' spot in the Section 1AA finale against Kasson-Mantorville.
Against Caledonia/Spring Grove, Z-M (22-2) fell behind in the bottom of the second inning on a solo home run by Samantha Bratland, the only mistake by Olson in the game.
"She threw a ball way too good," Nelson said. "And we had never played them before so I'm going off hearsay from other people, had I seen their order, we would have walked her intentionally and made those other girls beat us. Other than that she pitched very well."
But the Cougars responded in the third inning as Rachel Mensink was hit by a pitch with one out and Olson bunted for a hit as the Warriors threw the ball into right field. Tayler Mort, who finished 1-for-3 despite hitting the ball hard in every at-bat, came through with a two-RBI single for a 2-1 lead that Z-M never relinquished. Ali Frederixon tallied an RBI and Caledonia/Spring Grove made another error to bring in the final run for a 4-1 lead in the fourth inning.
"She's probably playing as well as anybody right now," Nelson said of Mort. "She's seeing the ball really well. She's having great at-bats."
On Thursday, the Cougars will get another chance at revenge against Kasson-Mantorville in the Section 1AA finale. Z-M's two losses this season both came to the KoMets by one run.
K-M's Maddie Damon pitched a complete game in both games, a 1-0 win and a 2-1 victory.
"I don't know how you solve her," Nelson said. "If we knew that, we would have solved her a long time ago. We've lost three one-run games to her in a row. Maybe one of these times if nothing else the odds should be getting to our favor pretty soon where you win on luck alone.
"I know the girls will be excited. We're the underdog going in, we've just got to go in and play as well as we possibly can and whatever happens, happens."
The Section 1AA finale will begin at 5 p.m. at Todd Park in Austin, Minn.