Softball: Cougars freeze Esko, return to 2A title game
NORTH MANKATO – There was a time this year when Natalie Majerus struggled. But when the lights came on at Caswell Park, the Zumbrota-Mazeppa senior center fielder became impossible to stop.
“I think it's the fans,” Majerus said. “They always pump us up and everyone is here to support us. It's pretty awesome. We're not usually used to that. So seeing a bunch of different people helps us out.”
“She started out the year in the coach's doghouse, and she worked her butt off to get to where she is,” Z-M head coach Kevin Nelson added. “We had her number four in the lineup and that didn't go as well as it did last year. But, she's a gamer, and she knows when the game is on the line. She has to come through.”
After going 2-for-4 with a home run, a double, four RBI and two runs in the quarterfinals, Majerus was 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles, two runs scored and an RBI while spearheading the second-seeded Cougars back into the Class 2A state finals with a 9-4 victory Thursday night against Esko.
“Not gonna lie, I don't think anyone really saw us doing this. And I don't think half our team saw us doing this,” Majerus said. “Now that we're in the state championship again, it's really exciting.”
Majerus opened the bottom of the first inning with a double, eventually scoring on a Tara Matuska ground out for a 1-0 Z-M lead.
“She's a tone-setter,” Nelson said of Majerus. “The last week of the season has been tremendous for her.”
The Eskomos, who upset third-seeded Pipestone in the opening round, tied the game in the top of the second after a Mackenzie Holland single. That seemed to be the only hope Esko would have in the game with Lyndsey Quam throwing heat in the circle for the Cougars.
Coming back from a quarterfinals victory, Lyndsey struck out 13 in a complete-game effort. She made life tough on Esko even as a tight strike zone frustrated her, which resulted in nine walks and three hits allowed.
“It was tough but, we all managed,” said catcher Natalye Quam, Lyndsey's sister. “Lyndsey worked her hardest and we all did it together. … I told her to keep her head up (and) take a deep breath because we can do it. She just needs to pitch it in there and the defense will back her up.”
“(Lyndsey) got wore out in this game, no doubt about that,” Nelson said. “She's a competitor and she was frustrated with how things were progressing. But she bore down when she had to. (She) pitched herself into trouble, and pitched herself out of trouble.”
Luckily, Lyndsey's offense picked her up. She scored in the third on a single from Natalye Quam, and, during the play, Brianna Albers crossed home on the throw. In the fourth, Rylee Schlief scored on a Majerus double.
Then in the fifth, Natalye hit the ball to second, and a fielding error resulted in Matuska tallying what ended up being the game-winning run. A Makayla Arendt single brought home Hannah Mensink for a 6-1 Cougars lead.
“Once that sparked it, everyone got more confidence that they could hit and we could get into more rallies,” Natalye said of her game-winning run.
A bases-loaded walk by Dea DeLeon brought home a run before Z-M went off for three runs in the bottom of the the sixth inning to give the team plenty of cushion.
The makeup of Z-M's roster is much different than a year ago, with only three starters back. But the end of the season will come in the state championship game.
At 2 p.m. Friday, the Cougars will face top-seeded Maple Lake in the title game. The Irish reached the 2A championship following a 9-0 victory against fourth-seeded Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton in the semifinals.
“We're worked so hard all year and everyone doubted us,” Natalye Quam said, “but we're really proving ourselves.”
Esko 010 001 2—4 3 3
Z-M 102 123 X—9 11 1
WP: Lyndsey Quam (Z-M) 7.0ip, 3h, 4r (3er), 9bb, 13k
LP: Emilee Wilson (E) 6.0ip, 11h, 9r (6er), 2bb, 3k
Z-M: Natalie Majerus 4-4, 2B-2, RBI, R-2; L. Quam 2-4 R; Natalye Quam 2-4, RBI-2
E: Mackenzie Holland 1-4, RBI; Hannah Stark 1-3; Ashley Pollema 1-4, RBI, R