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Softball: Royals win third straight section title

Members of the Royals pose with their Class 4A, Section 4 championship plaque. Photo by John Molene1 / 2
Woodbury teammates surround senior catcher Shannon Motzko as they celebrate a section finals win over Hill-Murray and a third consecutive trip to the state softball tournament. Photo by John Molene2 / 2

Woodbury fell behind upstart Hill-Murray 3-0 to start the game but rallied for an 11-3 victory June 1 at McKnight Field to earn a third straight trip to the state softball tournament.

It was the third consecutive Class 4A, Section 4 title for the fourth-ranked Royals (22-2) and will be the fourth overall appearance in the state tournament for the Royals.

Woodbury won the consolation championship two years ago, then finished third in last year's state tournament.

Woodbury senior pitcher Ashley Mickschl came in to start the second inning and dominated the Pioneers, throwing a no-hitter in six innings of relief. She struck out nine of the next 18 batters, walked none and set the side down in order each of the six innings.

"My rise was pretty good," said Mickschl, who was named one of seven finalists for the Ms. Softball Award Thursday. "But once again my teammates behind me — they're always there for me."

Hill-Murray finished its season at 15-8. The fifth-seeded Pioneers knocked off Cretin-Derham Hall, third-seeded Stillwater, Roseville and second-seeded North to reach the finals.

Down 3-0 entering the bottom of the third, the Royals rallied for three runs in the inning to tie the game, then surged ahead for good with a five-run fourth to take a commanding 8-3 lead. Woodbury added three more runs in the fifth and with Mickschl dominating on the mound; the Royals had more than enough to cruise to the victory.

"They held their ground today after that first inning," assistant coach Rachel Nicholas said. "Hill-Murray came ready to play and really jumped on us. I was impressed with how our girls settled in. We just waited our turn, and consistent hitting came through a little bit later on in the game."

Woodbury's big inning was the fourth. The Royals pushed across five runs by stringing together singles by Kaitlyn Rocco, Amanda Dickmeyer, Cam Veenbaas, Mickschl and Shannon Motzko, along with a sacrifice bunt by Ellie Condon and a Hill-Murray error.

"It feels pretty good," said Motzko, who was 1-for-3 with two RBIs. "It's always exciting to win sections and then go on to state because that's everyone's goal. And a couple of players on our team this year haven't been there before, so it will be more exciting, and it's most of our (team's) senior year. So we're really excited to go back again.

Mickschl was 3-for-3 with three RBIs, Dickmeyer was 2-for-4 with one RBI double and two runs, and Veenbaas was 2-for-4 with a double, two runs scored and one RBI.

"Ashley always pitches phenomenally, and Shannon Motzko has been very consistent with her bat the last few games, so she really came through with some clutches pokes," said Nicholas. "Honestly it's been a team effort.

Woodbury outhit the Pioneers 11-3.

"I think we were able to string hits together when we needed to," Motzko said. "Bases were loaded a couple of times, and we put a couple of hits through and we were all hitting the ball hard and that's what you need."

The state tournament will be held at Caswell Park in North Mankato on June 8 and June 9. The top five teams will be seeded in the Class 4A bracket and Woodbury is likely to pick up one of those seeds. Woodbury's first two games will be at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Thursday against opponents to be determined later.