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Softball: Z-M wins state opener

Zumbrota-Mazeppa's Hannah Mensink takes a cut at a pitch during the second inning of Thursday's Class 2A state quarterfinal game against St. Agnes at Caswell Park in North Mankato. Joe Brown / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Zumbrota-Mazeppa third baseman Taylor Blakstad makes a throw to first during Thursday's Class 2A state quarterfinal game at Caswell Park in North Mankato. The Cougars advanced with a 9-4 victory. Joe Brown / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

NORTH MANKATO – Zumbrota-Mazeppa planned all week for slower pitching. .

After drawing unseeded St. Agnes in the Class 2A state quarterfinals, the second-seeded Cougars knew the Aggies could hit. The pitching, that was a question mark.

“We saw they gave up a lot of runs per game. We talked to a couple people who said their pitching wasn't strong,” said Z-M head coach Kevin Nelson. “We slowed it down all week and make it a point to stay back and hit the ball hard instead of being out front.”

Nelson continued, “We put the pressure on early and set the tone.”

With six runs over the first two innings and a strong performance in the circle from Lyndsey Quam, the Cougars advanced to the state semifinals with a 9-4 victory at Caswell Park.

Z-M's Rylee Schliep crosses home after a double from Natalie Majerus during the second inning. “Everyone came in really positive and that's what we needed,” said center fielder Natalie Majerus. “When we came in, we thought, 'We can do this.' We were hitting just like we did in the section tournament. We've been on and hopefully that keeps going.”

The Cougars scored two runs in the bottom of the first inning, with a Brianna Albers RBI single and a Natalye Quam sacrifice fly. Four more runs came in the second thanks to a two-run double by Majerus, an RBI double from Lyndsey and a one-run single from Tara Matuska.

“Before the game, coaches were saying, 'Stay back, stay back.' And coach (Mike) Matuska threw us some slow balls before the game,” said Majerus, who finished 2-for-4 with a two-run home run to right-center in the fourth. She tallied four RBI and a pair of runs. “That helped a lot to see slow pitches before the game, and (St. Agnes pitcher Gemma Rossini) was throwing strikes.”

Lyndsey threw four hitless innings, walking just two while striking out seven in that stretch.

“Having Nat calling the pitches and Mr. Matuska, they knew what to throw and I do my best to throw it,” Lyndsey said. “It's not really anything too special. Some days, I'm in the zone. Mr. Nelson thinks I pitch better in the heat.”

St. Agnes managed to get its first hit when Lilly Rother, the No. 9 hitter, collected a one-out single in the sixth. That sparked a four-run inning for the Aggies as Maria Gutzmann hit a two-run single, followed by a two-out, two run single by Bailey Larkin.

“We had one inning that we let get away from us a little bit,” Nelson said. “We missed a ball we're going to make 99 percent of the time and it opened the door for them. We missed a couple changeups we left over the plate. … They put some pretty good swings together. Teams at this level, you know they're capable of it any time.”

At 5 p.m. today, the Cougars (22-6) will face unseeded Esko in the Class 2A semifinals. The Eskomoes advanced with a 4-0 win against third-seeded Pipestone Area.

St. Agnes 000 004 0—4 6 2

Z-M 240 210 X—9 7 2

WP: Lyndsey Quam (Z-M) 4.0ip, 0h, 0r, 2bb, 7k

LP: Gemma Rossini (SA) 6.0ip, 7h, 9r (4er), 3bb, 0k

Z-M: Natalie Majerus 2-4, HR, 2B, RBI-4, R-2; L. Quam 2-4, 2B, RBI, R; Tara Matuska 1-2, BB, RBI, R.

SA: Maria Gutzmann 1-2 RBI-2, R; Bailey Larkin 1-3 RBI-2, Katie Hathaway 1-2, R.

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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