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Softball: Cougars on the ropes

Zumbrota-Mazeppa's Tayler Mort avoids a defender and scampers into second base on a first-inning steal attempt against Stewartville in Friday's Sub-section 1AA West elimination game. Mort was safe on the play. (Republican Eagle photo by Kyle Stevens)

STEWARTVILLE, Minn. – Seventeen days ago, Zumbrota-Mazeppa hosted Kasson-Mantorville in a key Hiawatha Valley League showdown. The game also had playoff implications, but Z-M head coach Kevin Nelson held back his usual starting pitcher, Morgan Olson, in favor of Amber Gehrke. The thought process was that the Cougars and KoMets would meet in the Section 1AA-West playoffs, and Nelson wanted to keep his ace hidden.

On Friday, Olson took the mound against K-M in third round of the section tournament. By the top of the third inning, Gehrke was toeing the rubber, facing a five-run deficit that grew into a 9-1 loss by the time the game ended.

“I told the girls, ‘Hey, it was a perfect storm for them,’” Nelson said. “First batter of the game, Morgan hits a two-hop line shot right up the middle and it looks like it was going to be a base hit, and (K-M pitcher Maddie Damon) throws her glove at it and it goes in. Instead of a base hit, and we got momentum, boom, it goes to (K-M). And then we go quietly the rest of the inning.

“They come out and get a big hit in the first inning, hit one deep on us,” Nelson continued, “and we just didn’t lay deep enough. And they took it to us from that point on.”

Olson started the game on a high note, striking out the first KoMet she faced. But the next three batters reached base, two on doubles that soared over the heads of Cougar outfielders.

The KoMets scored three times in the bottom of the first, and then, with two out to begin the second, K-M doubled twice again with a single sandwiched between to add two more runs, effectively ending the game.

“It’s a game that, I don’t know if we play them 10 times we see that happen,” Nelson said. “They’re an outstanding team, no doubt about it. But I don’t know that they’re that much better than us. Morgan didn’t have a great day, she didn’t hit her spots. And the second time through, they were hitting her pretty hard.”

The KoMets scored four more times in the fifth, rendering Z-M’s single run in the third meaningless as Damon struck out 12 Cougars over seven innings.

Rachel Mensink had the lone run for Z-M, a solo home run to left-center field that easily cleared the fence.

The loss set up a do-or-die elimination game against Stewartville, which the Cougars handled like they have so many teams this season.

Olson took the circle again, this time going the distance in a 4-1 victory that kept Z-M’s season alive. Olson allowed four hits over seven innings, striking out five and walking none as the Cougars built their lead with two-run innings in the fourth, chasing Stewartville starter Jena O’Byrne, and the fifth, against Tiger ace Caitlyn Hughes, who lost a 4-3 decision to the Cougars on Wednesday.

In the fourth, Alyssa Quam doubled and scored, Mensink singled and scored, and Ali Frederixon singled in Mensink. In the fifth, Tayler Mort singled and scored on Hailey Dykes’ two-run home run to center.

“Once we went up 4-0 with two innings to go, you knew their bats would really have to come alive, and we would probably have to help them,” Nelson said. “But we didn’t. Jackie Matuska and Ali Frederixon have played outstanding defense over the last (couple weeks). Ali went in to play third base for Kate Buck, who got hurt, and she’s done a great job. Jackie, for the last month, has played awesome defense.”

If the season is to continue for the Cougars, Z-M will have to hope all three phases of its game are ready to go at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Section 1AA Final Four in Austin. The Cougars will face the Sub-section 1AA East runners-up, either Plainview-Elgin-Millville or Caledonia/Spring Grove, in an elimination game at Todd Park. The winner will face the loser of the other 5 p.m. game, being K-M or Cotter.

Cannon Falls bows out

STEWARTVILLE, Minn. – Cannon Falls had to cry mercy the first time the Bombers faced Stewartville this season. But on Friday, Cannon Falls held the Tigers to a single run in a Sub-section 1AA West elimination game.

Unfortunately for the Bombers, Stewartville held Cannon Falls scoreless, taking the game 1-0, and sending the Bombers home for the season.

“Last time we played them, they 10-runned us, and I’m sure they felt pretty good about that,” said Cannon Falls head coach Mike Gunderson. “This time, we lose 1-0. That’s not a moral victory whatsoever. I know we’re as good or better than they are, but we just couldn’t score any runs.”

Ashly Serres, Gabby Heckmann and Brooke Peters each had a hit for the Bombers, who started Lydia Franken in the circle. Franken pitched a stellar game, giving up just the one run while striking out 13 without a walk.

Kyle Stevens
Kyle Stevens is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, Kyle worked at the Owatonna People’s Press, as well as KWLM and KLFN in Willmar. You can contact Kyle by phone at (651) 301-7879, via e-mail at, and follow him on Twitter @RE_KStevens.
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