Softball: East Ridge heads to state for the first time in program history
East Ridge 10, Eastview 4
East Ridge came into Friday with the No. 1 seed and had to win one of the two games to advance to state.
The Raptors only needed one game on Friday to advance to the state tournament for the first time in program. For this group of players, this postseason run is really special because it's been a dream not only in high school, but throughout youth leagues.
East Ridge has six seniors on this team and all of those seniors have played together at a young age. They wanted to make sure this state tournament was on their resume before they left the program.
"We had been striving for this goal ever since we were little, so to get to state during our senior year is special," said Josie Dorf. "There are really no words to describe my feelings right now. It's so special."
The Raptors were consistent in the first three innings as they scored one run in each inning. This helped the players get into a rhythm and start swinging the bats early and often.
One of the those runs came in the second inning when Grace Bennett hit a line drive home run over the left field fence. As she rounded third base, the East Ridge team was surrounding home plate and ready to celebrate her home run.
Abbey Cook was hitting her points in the circle as she gave up one run in the first four innings. Then, head coach Afton Murray brought Bennett into the game as the pitcher because batters had seen Cook two times already and she wanted to change it up. Bennett came in and the first two batters reached base with the third batter hitting a three-run home run to give Eastview a 4-3 lead.
"After that home run, I wasn't that worried because I knew this team had faced a deficit," Murray said. "They knew how to come back and get that lead back."
Murray was right.
The East Ridge girls came back into the dugout after the inning and focused on their bats. The hitting became infectious as one batter knocked in another batter to put up four runs in the bottom of the fifth and retake the lead of 7-4.
The Raptors added three more runs the following inning to make it a 10-4 game and that's all Cook needed to clinch the win. She came back in the sixth and seventh inning to shut out the Lightning and send East Ridge to Mankato next week for the state tournament.
"Abbey has been amazing this season," said Sidney Zavoral. "Now that she's back healthy, she's been unbelievable for us."
There were five different Raptors that recorded an RBI in the game on Friday, which shows the talent from batter one to nine. That will need to continue when the team heads to state next week and Murray is confident it'll stay since it's been there all season long.
It was a surreal moment for Murray and the entire East Ridge team on Friday as they were awarded with the section championship trophy because they made history. It was the first time in East Ridge softball history that a team reached state. For Zavoral, it's an honor and pleasure to represent the Raptors at this type of tournament. For Cook, it's something different.
"Growing up, we watched the East Ridge softball teams each year and we were apart of up and down seasons," Cook said. "But to see this year end at state just shows how much this program has worked to reach this point."
At the beginning of the season, the players and coaches made it a goal to win a section title and go to state as a team. Now, the Raptors want to compete at state and focus on one game at a time.
It's a day that this East Ridge team will never forget for the rest of their lives. Also, the program will never forget this day as well.
The brackets haven't been made yet for the state tournament, but it looks like East Ridge will play at Caswell Park in Mankato on Thursday, June 6 at 1 p.m. against an opponent to be named later.
If the Raptors win or lose their first game, they will play at 7 p.m. on that Thursday night for the semifinals or consolation game. The championship, third-place and consolation championship games will take place on Friday, June 7.
East Ridge 8, Rosemount 1
East Ridge head coach Afton Murray has relied on every player throughout the season to reach this point in the season. It hasn't been just the pitching staff or a handful of offensive players, it's been a collective team effort.
That team effort showed on Tuesday afternoon as the Raptors defeated Rosemount 8-1 and advance the championship game for the Section 3AAAA tournament.
"I think that's one thing this team has been really good about this year and that's being mentally tough," Murray said. "They don't get too caught up in one situation ... we've had a lot of close games at the end of the season and I think having that has helped us."
The game started with a hit from Kaitlin Boyles in the first inning that scored two runners and gave East Ridge a 2-0 lead early. That lead stuck for half of the game until Rosemount started a rally and scored a run to cut the lead in half.
Instead of being worried about the smaller lead, the Raptors became angry for giving up a run.
"We were angry that we gave up a run, so we wanted to make sure we extended that lead more in the next inning," Boyles said. "We've been in some close games throughout the season and that helped us with our mindset in this game."
The girls came out swinging and used simple base hits to move baserunners over and eventually score. The score continued to extend from 2-1 to 4-1 to 6-1 to, finally, 8-1.
The majority of the time, the Raptors rely on a home run to create some momentum in a game. This time, there were no home runs and instead the Raptors relied on base hits and smart baserunning to score runs.
Boyles stepped up in this game as Rosemount intentionally walked Sidney Zavoral the majority of the game. Zavoral has been walked many times throughout the season, so Boyles has had to step up with her offensive production all season.
"Kaitlin has done a great job this season," Murray said. "She's been put in a lot of situations this season because of that and she's handled it so well. Her mentality is 'alright, let's do this.'"
That's been the mentality for all the players on East Ridge's team because each of them know it takes each player's best effort to reach that ultimate goal. The Raptors are one step away from that goal.
They've reached the championship game on Friday, May 31, and with one win they will be playing in Mankato next week in the state tournament. That's been the goal all along this season, but Grace Bennett and the rest of the Raptors are looking at the championship game as one more game in the season.
"We were playing for this game and this has been what we've been waiting for," Bennett said. "Now that it's here, we're so ready ... we need to take it game by game though."
East Ridge will play the championship game on Friday, May 31, at Richfield Middle School at 3 p.m. and the Raptors will play the winner of Rosemount or Eastview. East Ridge will need to win one of the two games on Friday.
If the Raptors lose the first game at 3 p.m., there will be a second game at 5 p.m. because East Ridge hasn't lost in the tournament. If East Ridge wins the first or second game on Friday, the Raptors will advance to the state tournament for the first time in program history.