NORTH MANKATO — Marah Hulke earned a win in the circle and hit three home runs total Saturday to help No. 1-seeded Nicollet return to the Section 2A softball finals for the second year in a row.
After beating fourth-seeded Springfield 6-1 at Caswell Park, the Raiders scored 13 unanswered runs to come back and beat second-seeded New Ulm Cathedral 13-2 in five innings.
With those two wins, the Raiders will play in the section finals on Thursday.
Last year, Nicollet battled back to the section finals in the elimination bracket before falling to Springfield in the finals. This year, however, the Raiders are in the winner’s bracket and are just one win away from making it to the state tournament.
The Section 2A finals is at 5 p.m. Thursday at Caswell Park. If the Raiders lose that 5 p.m. game, they will play another game at 7 p.m., with the winner of that game going to the state tournament.
Offense was contagious for the Raiders on Saturday, making things easier in the circle as a result. They opened the day by knocking Springfield into the elimination bracket.
The Raiders scored four runs in the first inning against the Tigers, getting an RBI single from Tori Adams, a two-run homer from Hulke and an RBI single from Hayley Selby.
An RBI single from Olivia Whitmore in the second inning gave the Raiders a 5-0 lead. Springfield got a run in the fourth inning on a groundout by Megan Ploeger, but the Raiders got the run back in the fifth on a groundout by Leah Bode to lead to the final score.
Hulke got the win against the Tigers, giving up three hits and a walk while striking out 13.
The Greyhounds also had plenty of offense to go around in their first game of the day as they downed No. 3-seeded Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s 13-6.
Megan Haala got the win for the Greyhounds against St. Mary’s, pitching six innings and allowing nine hits and three walks for six runs while fanning two. Kiah Helget led the way at the plate for the Greyhounds, going 3 for 5 with a home run, a double and five RBIs.
Emily Schommer also had a three-run homer, while Lily Brennan was 3 for 4 with two RBIs and two runs scored and Jenna Hotovec had a homer and two RBIs.
Cathedral continued its offense against Nicollet and starting pitcher Selby in the first inning of the winner’s bracket semifinals, getting two runs on RBI singles from Megan Haala and Sydnee Helget. But Selby and the Nicollet defense shut the Greyhounds down after that.
Selby finished the game by allowing three walks in addition to those two first-inning hits. She struck out three.
Morgan Arndt singled in a run in the second inning to have Nicollet down 2-1 before the Raiders added five more runs in the third, led by home runs from Hulke and Whitmore and a two-run double by Sam Kettner.
The Raiders batted around in the fourth inning for seven runs, getting another home run from Hulke and a two-run single from Adams to lead the way. Hulke also singled in the final run of the game during her second at bat of the fourth and finished the game 3 for 4.
“I haven’t hit a ton of home runs this year, but I’m not going up there trying to hit home runs, I’m just trying to make contact,” Hulke said. “So when I can make solid contact and the ball comes off the bat and I know it’s gone, it definitely boosts my confidence. And being one of the leaders on the team, when I’m getting on and I’m getting hits, it just sets the tone of the team and everyone follows.”
Megan Haala pitched two innings in the loss, giving up five hits and three walks for six runs while striking out five. She was relieved by Madelyn Haala, who also pitched two innings and gave up seven hits and two walks for seven runs.
Whitmore also had herself a day at the plate, going 2 for 3 against Springfield and 3 for 4 against Cathedral. She said that her ability to get on base and bring in runs Saturday was a big boost for her confidence when she needed it most.
“Last week we played Lake Crystal and I went 0 for 4,” Whitmore said. “And that’s the kind of feeling you don’t want to have, especially coming into a game like this [against Cathedral]. I felt like I had a lot to prove that when I got up to the plate, I was going to be seeing good pitches and just take what I liked and not worry about necessarily the strike zone or try to get walked every single at bat. I just took the pitches that I liked, even if they were a little bit out.”
The Greyhounds will return to Caswell for a 7 p.m. elimination bracket finals game on Tuesday against Martin County West, the sixth seed, or St. Mary’s. MCW and St. Mary’s play at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the elimination bracket semifinals.
Schommer, one of Cathedral’s senior leaders, said that the Greyhounds need to rest up and get ready to attack again on Tuesday.
“The biggest thing now is to have fun with it,” Schommer said. “Our coaches have always told us that we’re the goofy team. And when we’re free and easy and we’re joking and making fun of each other, that’s when we play our best. So I think the biggest thing is, we take this weekend, we rest up, recover our arms, get some ice, get in that AC and go into Monday’s practice, have a great practice, and then we’ll come into Tuesday with that attack mentality, and I have no worries.”
ALSO ON SATURDAY
St. Mary’s started its day with an early 1-0 lead over Cathedral before the Greyhounds started connecting for home runs, with Kiah Helget and Schommer each homering in the second.
Julia Helget took the loss for the Knights against Cathedral, pitching 1 1/3 innings and giving up six runs on five hits and two walks. She struck out two.
Lacey Mathiowetz pitched the rest of the game and gave up seven hits for seven runs while striking out two. The Knights got a home run of their own by Addie Hoffmann, who was 2 for 4 with two RBIs. Madeline Hose was 2 for 3 with an RBI.
After the loss, the Knights took on 12th-seeded Madelia, which beat eighth-seeded Sleepy Eye earlier in the day in an elimination bracket game. The Knights ended their day with an 8-0 shutout win over the Blackhawks to stay alive in the tournament.
Mathiowetz went the distance in the win, giving up three hits and five walks while fanning seven. Isabella Hoffmann was 2 for 3 with an RBI for the Knights at the plate, while Mathiowetz was 2 for 2 with an RBI and Kallie Zarn was 2 for 4 with two RBIs.
Springfield, looking to return to the state tournament for the second consecutive season, had a tall task at hand right away on Saturday by taking on the No. 1-seeded Raiders.
Brooklyn Sturm, Tori Roiger and Brenna Pabst had the lone hits in the loss. Jalivia Richert took the loss in four innings of work, giving up 12 hits and a walk for five runs while striking out two.
The Tigers were then upset and eliminated from the tournament after a 9-7 loss to MCW, with errors being costly.
Springfield committed nine errors, while MCW played error-free.
Maddy Digmann was 2 for 4 with an RBI for the Tigers, while Jaeli Richert had a double and two RBIs. Jalivia Richert, Roiger and Sturm also each had a double in the loss.
Jaeli Richert took the loss in five innings of work, giving up six hits and six walks for one earned run while striking out two.
Madelia started its Saturday with a 5-2 win over Sleepy Eye in the elimination bracket. But the Blackhawks ran into an extra-motivated St. Mary’s squad in its second game of the day, falling 8-0 to be eliminated from the tournament.
In the win over the Indians, the Blackhawks scored four early runs in the first inning to lead 4-0 after one. The Indians got a run back in the fourth before Madelia scored in the sixth for a 5-1 lead. Sleepy Eye scored its final run in the bottom of the seventh.
Emma Coil was 2 for 4 to lead Madelia in the win, while Lauryn Grev doubled. Ashlynn Sweet, Veronica Ibeling and Kellie Koberoski each had an RBI for Madelia.
Corban Tatro got the win, pitching all seven innings and giving up eight hits for two runs while fanning 13.
For the Indians, who were eliminated from the tournament with the loss, Brooke Arneson, Katelyn Tauer and Julia Berkner each had two hits, with one hit from Arneson being a triple. Arneson and Berkner also each had an RBI.
Tauer took the loss in the circle, giving up two earned runs on six hits and two walks while striking out seven.
In the season-ending loss to the Knights, Madelia got singles from Abby Jacobs, Ibeling and Koberoski. Coil took the loss in all seven innings, giving up five earned runs on seven hits and four walks while fanning three.