EMV softball clinches state berth

CASSELTON — Based on how things turned out the last two seasons, one would expect that the Enderlin/Maple Valley softball team be somewhat excited to clinch a spot in the first-ever Class B state softball tournament.
In both 2010 and 2011, when the sport operated with only one classification, the Falcons lost in a state qualifying game.
The girls clinched their spot at state Tuesday with a 21-5 win over Hillsboro/Central Valley in the semifinal round of the Class B South Region tournament at Tinta Tawa Park in Casselton.
Though the team was excited following the win, it wasn’t so much about the long awaited state trip.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said catcher Megan Johnson.
It wasn’t a reaction that caught coach Neva Hamre off guard.
“We haven’t really even talked about it,” Hamre said. “We’re just really going game by game.”
It’s an approach that has worked well for the hard-hitting Falcons. Tuesday’s game lasted only five innings and was full of top-tier hitting and defense. It was the team’s 15th straight win and the only loss the girls had was to Hankinson/Fairmount in their season opener.
Though Hamre felt her team had a slow start, the score book would beg to differ.
In the first inning, the Falcons went through the lineup and scored six runs.
It included back-to-back-to-back inside-the-park home runs from Megan Johnson, pitcher Kaylee Johnson, and outfielder Rylee Nudell.
They were the first three hits of the game. Megan’s scored two, with Kaylee and Nudell’s each a solo. All were assisted by the vast outfield at the park, which combined with solid shots that landed just short of the fences.
The offensive success the team had lasted all through the game. The Falcons played patient but aggressive, finishing with 14 hits and eight walks, while also taking advantage of four errors from the Burros.
Although the team was confident after taking a 6-1 lead in the first inning, the Burros took advantage of early pitching struggles by Kaylee Johnson.
Kaylee started the inning by getting a groundout, but walked the second hitter. After another groundout, the previously walked batter scored on consecutive passed balls.
She then walked two straight batters before giving up a three-run inside the park home run to HCV’s Tedi Perkins to make it 6-5.
It was as close as the game got.
The next inning five of the Falcons’ first six batters reached base and eventually scored in an inning that included two-RBI triple by Megan Johnson. The Falcons finished the inning up 11-5, then did better in the third.
In the third, the Falcons’ first two batters reached on errors. The next three on walks. One was hit by a pitch. The seventh batter, Abbie Tinjum, got a two-RBI single to right field.
Enderlin/Maple Valley finished the inning with nine runs, then added one more in the bottom of the fourth.
Statistically, Megan Johnson finished the game having reached base in all five trips to the plate. She finished 3-4 with two triples and a home run, and also had a walk and reached on an error. Not to mention her five RBI and four runs scored.
Another top offensive performers was third baseman Krista Thielges, who went 3-4 with a double, two singles and was hit by a pitch. She finished with three runs scored.
Shortstop Megan Kasowski, who was filling in for a sick Cassie Pautz, left Hamre especially pleased with her 1-3 performance at the plate, which included a double, a walk and one at-bat where she reached on an error. All three times she reached base, she scored.
In all, five hitters on the team had multi-hit games and six scored multiple runs.
Hamre said the offense is a result of girls willing to go the extra mile during practice.
“They’re just good girls,” she said, noting that they starting warming up for their game well before they had been instructed to. “They just always do the little things.”
She was also pleased with Kaylee Johnson’s pitching performance, which was hurt only by the walks in the second inning. Otherwise, she finished with three hits against her and eight strikeouts in the five-inning game, which included three strikeouts looking in the first inning.
The Eagles advance to the regional championship game, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Casselton.