Softball: East Ridge earns fourth place at state
It was two days that the East Ridge softball team will never forget. In their eyes, the Raptors hope it's not the last time.
East Ridge traveled down to Caswell Park in North Mankato on Thursday and Friday to compete in the state tournament with seven of the best teams in the state. It was the first time the team had reached state in program history, so the coaches and players weren't sure what to expect with the atmosphere.
They did know the competition would be the best they've ever seen.
"It was a memory I'll never forget," said Josie Dorf. "We went in focused on playing our game and enjoying the experience to end our season."
The Raptors earned the No. 3 seed in the Class AAAA tournament, which put them in a game against Eden Prairie in the opening round. The Thursday morning game was close as Eden Prairie took a 1-0 lead early.
That score stayed for the majority of the game until East Ridge did what they've been doing all season long: scoring runs in the late innings to either extend a lead or make a comeback.
That mentality allowed the Raptors to share a piece of the conference title with Forest Lake and earn a No. 1 seed in the section tournament.
That situational hitting came into effect in the bottom of the fourth inning when East Ridge put five runs on the board to take a 5-1 lead. It wasn't a home run that scored the runs, but rather singles and doubles that continued to move runners along the basepaths.
There were five different players that each earned an RBI to record those five runs. That one inning was all Abbey Cook needed on the mound as she pitched a complete game allowing one unearned run and five hits, while striking out four batters.
"Abbey was amazing for us in all three games," said head coach Afton Murray. "She's been consistent all season long and has helped us reach this point in the season."
It was the first win at the state tournament in program history, which made the girls proud that they were in the record books.
Season ends with two losses
After winning the opening round, the Raptors prepared for the semifinal game later on Thursday afternoon against No. 2 seed Maple Grove. The East Ridge team knew it wasn't going to get any easier, especially facing Ava Dueck from the Crimson.
It was a pitching duel between Dueck and Cook, but Dueck took an early lead as she hit a two-run home run in the third inning. Maple Grove scored two more runs in the bottom of the sixth to take a 4-0 lead.
As always, East Ridge put up a fight at the end and scored two runs in the seventh, but Dueck finished the game with a 4-2 win.
"It took us most of the game to time her and we just ran out of time," said Sidney Zavoral. "We started connecting in the seventh, but it was too late."
The East Ridge seniors all agreed that it's difficult to play new teams that the players have never faced. During most of the conference games, the girls are able to time the pitchers and grab those leads. In the state tournament, teams can't do it as much.
Murray said she was happy with how the girls played against Maple Grove, but it was a typical state softball game and it didn't end in East Ridge's favor.
After that game, the Raptors were able to grab some dinner and stay at a hotel for the night. Their next game was Friday morning against co-conference champion and No. 1 seed Forest Lake for the third-place trophy.
East Ridge only had two losses on the season and both came from Forest Lake, so the Raptors were prepared to change that outcome for the third meeting. They weren't able to as Forest Lake continued tacking on runs and won 7-0.
East Ridge ended in fourth-place.
"We just had a great time spending some extra days together as a team," said Morgan Anderson. "These are the moments we'll never forget during our high school years."
Murray said she was proud of how the girls played all season and how they became a family both on and off the field. Many of the players hung out after practices and on the weekends, which showed on the field.
"It was extra bonding time for us as a team these last couple of days," Cook said. "We had a great time at state and we're excited to see this team make another run."
East Ridge will graduate six seniors this spring and those seniors contributed in big ways throughout their high school careers.
"I've played eight years with all of these girls and it's been amazing to share these memories with them," Anderson said. "It was amazing to share our love of the game one last time at state."
As for the future, the seniors are excited to see the growth of the program for the next year or two. Murray said the seniors will be missed, but there are plenty of juniors and sophomores that have contributed to the lineup this season.
The seniors also said the success has come from excellent coaches that make practices and the overall season fun.
"This program is in good hands," said Molly Seif. "There are strong players growing in the program and we can't wait to see them next spring."