Cougars keep the throne
NORTH MANKATO — At this time a year ago, Rylee Schliep wasn't even on the 18-player state roster for Zumbrota-Mazeppa.
Now, Schliep's the one sparking the Cougars into another state championship.
After collecting Z-M's first hit against top-seeded Maple Lake with a one-out single in the bottom of the third inning, Schliep got the wheels turning for the Cougars by stealing second base and scoring the team's first run with a bang-bang play at the plate on a Natalie Majerus single.
"I heard 'Down' right when I got to home plate, and I felt a tap on my head. I didn't know anything else," Schliep said about scoring Z-M's first run. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh.' It was such a big rush."
It was also a rush for the team as a whole. The second-seeded Cougars' spirits lifted and they were able to score three runs in the inning which paved the way for a 4-1 victory in the Class 2A championship game Friday at Caswell Park.
"Rylee's worked so hard, so hard, to become a good outfielder," said Cougars head coach Kevin Nelson. "And now, she comes out of a slump again and came up with a clutch hit for us. And normally we substitute run for her, but I felt more confident with her making the decision today. We had her steal a base. ... If she doesn't get thrown out, Natalie Majerus is going to get a hit to score her. That's the dice we rolled and it worked."
Schliep's story is indicative of this year's state champion squad: Six girls that played on the junior varsity a year ago jumped into starting roles and brought the Cougars a second-straight championship by beating an Irish team that was a perfect 26-0 heading into the title game.
"Honestly, I think it's pretty unreal. From the beginning of the season, I didn't think any of us could do it. Half the team didn't think we could do it," Majerus said. "Now that we're here and we won it, it's pretty unreal."
Starting in the circle for the third straight game, Lyndsey Quam played to her defense and hampered Maple Lake's offense. Lyndsey allowed one run (unearned) on seven hits and four walks with one strikeout.
"I really tried to throw strikes in there as much as I could because I know I have an awesome defense behind me," Lyndsey said. "I don't think we would have won without that awesome defense behind me."
There were diving catches by Majerus and Hannah Mensink in the outfield. And Tara Matuska snagged several sharply-hit balls at shortstop. But a routine fly in the sixth was the biggest defensive play of the game. With two outs, Ellie Haney drew a walk to load the bases. So, Nelson rallied his infield to the rubber in hopes of calming down his pitcher.
Nelson told Lyndsey to "'go back to basics. Throw strikes, let your defense play behind you and you'll be fine.'"
A couple pitches later, Maddi Maas hit a pop fly into Majerus' glove in center field to end the jam.
"We all knew we had to do our job once the ball was hit," Majerus said.
Nelson added, "(Lyndsey) was Randy Johnson today. Effectively wild. Wild enough to keep them off-balance, but good enough to throw strikes when she had to."
Z-M's offense got its spark in the bottom of the third thanks to Schliep. Up 1-0, Matuska belted a single to the left side that scored Majerus and Lyndsey for a 3-0 lead.
"When we started hitting the ball, we started getting our timing and we hit it well," Majerus said. "Knowing it was happening against a team that's 26-0 was pretty awesome."
Frustration set in for a Maple Lake squad that outscored opponents 10.7-1.2 prior to Friday's championship. The Cougars knew it, and they pounced.
"We had to jump on them at that time," Matuska said. "It definitely worked out that everyone had the confidence knowing it would be a time to keep (Irish pitcher Calli Maki) down and keep us up."
Z-M added an insurance run in the fourth thanks to a defensive gaffe. Running a double steal, Maple Lake's catcher tried to throw out Makayla Arendt at second base. Problem was, there was no player to receive the throw and the ball trickled into the outfield, allowing Natalye Quam to reach home for a 4-0 lead.
The Irish's lone run came in the top of the fifth on a fielding error that scored Haney.
Z-M closes out the 2017 season with a 24-6 record. Majerus, Lyndsey Quam and Natalye Quam were all named to the Class 2A All-Tournament team.
"It was a surprise," Matuska said. "But knowing we were all going to work our hardest and knowing that we were champions last year, we knew we could do it again if we had the right mindset."
Zumbrota-Mazeppa 4, Maple Lake 1
ML 000 010 0—1 7 2
Z-M 003 100 X—4 5 1
WP: Lyndsey Quam (Z-M) 7.0IP, 7H, 1R (0ER), 4BB, 1K
LP: Calli Maki (ML) 6.0IP, 5H, 4R (0ER), 3BB, 7K
Z-M: Tara Matuska 1-3, RBI-2; Rylee Schliep 1-3, R-1; Hannah Mensink 1-3, 2B
ML: Mollie Scheiber 2-3; Ellie Haney 1-2, 2B, R; Linsey Rachel 1-3, 2B.
Zumbrota-Mazeppa 9, Esko 4
E 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
Zumbrota-Mazeppa 9, St. Agnes 4
SA 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