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Softball: Power surge propels Cougars to victory

Tayler Mort makes a lunging catch for Zumbrota-Mazeppa during Monday's matchup with Winona Cotter in Zumbrota. The Cougars won 11-6. Photo by Chris Harrell1 / 3
Zumbrota-Mazeppa's Morgan Olson delivers a pitch during Monday's game against Winona Cotter. Olson threw a complete game as the Cougars won 11-6 in Zumbrota. Photo by Chris Harrell2 / 3
Zumbrota-Mazeppa's Alyssa Quam prepares to throw to first base during Monday's game against Winona Cotter in Zumbrota. Photo by Chris Harrell3 / 3

ZUMBROTA - Zumbrota-Mazeppa is a power-hitting team.

Exhibit A: Three home runs in the second inning. Exhibit B: A game-changing grand slam by No. 9-hitter Rachel Mensink in the bottom of the sixth inning.

The Cougars scored nine of their 11 runs via the home run Monday in an 11-6 victory against Winona Cotter.

"It's kind of nice when your No. 9 hitter can step up and change the game in one swing of the bat," Z-M head coach Kevin Nelson said.

Mensink got the opportunity when the Ramblers intentionally walked Amber Jentsch to load the bases with two outs in a 7-6 game.

"I can't tell you how many times that backfires," Nelson said. "I told Rachel, 'Seize the moment. Take that personally that they're walking Amber to get to you.' She answered the call."

Mensink, a sophomore, finished 2-for-4 with four RBI. Morgan Olson pitched all seven innings for the Cougars, allowing four earned runs on six hits and four walks while striking out seven. She also went 4-for-4 with a triple and two runs scored at the plate.

"She's so smart," Nelson said of Olson. "She'll remember what every at-bat was. She did a great job of adjusting. She did a better job than the score shows."

Cotter roughed up Olson in the first inning, getting three hits, including a three-run home run with two outs.

But Z-M (8-0, 5-0 HVL) fought back with two runs in the bottom of the first inning as Olson led off with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly to center field by Lydia Wagner. Tayler Mort singled with one out and came around to score on a single by Amber Gehrke with two outs. Carley Henning was caught between third and home for the final out of the inning to protect the Ramblers' 3-2 lead.

Olson settled down in the second inning and retired Cotter in order.

Then, the Cougars' bats came alive.

Wagner hit a three-run home run, Mort backed it up with a solo home run, and Hailey Dykes deposited a home run to the opposite field two batters later to give Z-M a 7-3 lead it never gave back.

"That told them we were here to hit," said Nelson.

Mort said that the Cougars have a friendly team competition for who can hit the most home runs this season. The leaderboard is getting crowded.

"I love it," Mort said. "Right now, I'm tied with Carley. Lydia's still one ahead but I'm catching up."

The Ramblers added a run in the third inning to cut the deficit to three and Z-M went quiet at the plate for three innings.

The home runs are flashy, but one of the biggest plays Monday night came in the top of the fifth inning as Cotter threatened to take a lead. The Ramblers pulled within 7-6 when McKenna Marge ripped a line drive into the left center-field gap. Off the bat, it looked like Marge's hit would find the gap and give Cotter a lead but Wagner made a lunging grab to preserve the lead.

"That was Lydia's competitiveness coming out," Nelson said. "She was going to do whatever possible to run that down."

The momentum carried over as Mensink plated four runs for the Cougars in one swing and Z-M turned a game-ending double play in the top of the seventh for the win.

The Cougars continue play Tuesday on the road against Stewartville before facing Kasson-Mantorville Thursday in Kasson.

Nelson gets 400th win at Z-M invite

Zumbrota-Mazeppa head coach picked up his 400th career victory Saturday as the Cougars went 3-0 at their home invitational.

Z-M defeated Burnsville 5-3 in Game 1 to give Nelson his 400th win. Morgan Olson picked up the victory in the pitcher's circle and the Cougars hit three home runs, one each from Tayler Mort, Carley Henning and Rachel Mensink.

Nelson said he didn't realize he had won his 400th game until afterwards.

"I knew last year at the end of the year when I had to send everything in," Nelson said of how many wins he had. "That was the last time I thought about it."

Z-M honored Nelson's achievement at Monday's game against Winona Cotter.

In Game 2, the Cougars won 13-10 against St. Anthony.

Lydia Wagner was 4-for-4 with a home run and six RBI to lead Z-M while Olson went 5-for-5 with two doubles, two RBI and four runs scored. Mort was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI.

Facing Bemidji in the third game of the day, the Cougars picked up an 11-4 victory. Mort went 3-for-5 with a home run, a double and four RBI, Henning was 1-for-4 with a home run and three RBI, and Hailey Dykes finished 3-for-3 with a home run. Henning also threw five innings and allowed one run while striking out three to pick up the win.

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.
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