Rabbits remain alive in 3A softball tourney

COTTONWOOD – Just one of the three Marshall-area softball teams that made it through to the final eight of the Section 3A tournament remained alive after Saturday’s action in Cottonwood. But the one team that remains knows it needs to play better or its season will soon be over, too.

The Wabasso Rabbits lost to unbeaten Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg 9-4 to drop down to the losers’ bracket, where they fought off a late seventh-inning rally by Tracy-Milroy-Balaton to hold on for a 3-2 win.

From giving up big extra-base hits to KMS in its first game, to base-running mistakes that led to a triple play in the second game against TMB, Wabasso head coach John VanLoy said things must improve in a few different areas for the Rabbits to get past two more rounds today.

“We didn’t play Wabasso ball,” VanLoy said. “We played, well, not good. Base running wasn’t good.

“If we play at that level, there’s not a chance for the Rabbits. We need to pick this thing up and start hitting the ball and start playing defense like we need to play, regardless of the conditions.”

Wabasso (11-4 overall) moves on to face Windom Area at 5 p.m. today in Marshall. The Rabbits defeated the Eagles 3-1 in the second round of the playoffs before Windom battled back for wins over Wheaton/Herman-Norcross and Dawson-Boyd on Saturday. The winner of the Wabasso/Windom game will face Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian today at 6:30 p.m. for the right to move on and play KMS for the section championship on Thursday.

Wabasso’s encounter with KMS Saturday saw the Fighting Saints get by with getting big hits. A three-run double by Samantha Dunn in the second inning led to a four-run inning as KMS jumped ahead early. Wabasso took advantage of a couple of walks and a wild pitch by Erin Haglund in the third inning to score three runs. But a three-run home run to dead center by KMS clean-up hitter Courtney Olson the very next inning gave the Fighting Saints a comfortable 8-3 lead. Olson also had an RBI double in the sixth inning.

Wabasso pitcher Kimberly Frank gave up nine runs on 10 hits with five walks and three strikeouts. Although KMS has one of the best lineups in the state, VanLoy thought Frank was capable of a better performance.

“KMS is a legit team, there’s no question about it,”?he said. “Kimberly was not on the top of her game today, either, and stayed up a little bit on some stuff. Three balls, no strikes and you use a pitch for her to hit, that’s just not typically her.

“We did OK against them. There was some good pitching and we bunted successfully and did some things like we wanted to do, but there were just too many big hits against us.”

TMB started off Saturday in the losers’ bracket due to a second-round 3-2 loss to Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian on Tuesday. The Panthers had no problem in their first game Saturday, pounding 17 hits in a 13-5 win over Ortonville.

Courtney Paczkowski had a big game at the plate for the Panthers, going 2-for-4 with an inside-the-park home run, a double and four runs scored. Pitcher Jenny Welu helped her cause by going 5-for-5, while Galiya Bitton and Alexis Buysse each tacked on three hits.

The Panthers’ offense hit a roadblock against Frank and the Rabbits in the next round. They got one hit in each of the first six innings but were unable to score until the seventh when Paczkowski came through with an RBI triple and Welu had a two-out RBI single. Frank got Bitton to ground out with two runners on to end the game.

The matchup got off to an odd start, as a series of TMB throwing errors on a hit by Frank allowed her to circle the bases for a run. Panther head coach Paul Skoglund immediately called a timeout to go talk to his players and try to calm them down.

“That first wild play, I’ve never seen anything like it and probably never will again, but we played tough the rest of the game,” Skoglund said. “Hats off to Wabasso, they’re a good team and they play the game hard and well. It’s just hard to see the season end.”

TMB got to be on the positive end of another strange play in the fifth inning. Frank and Shawna Rogotzke both reached base with singles and were on second and third with no outs. Ellen Franta came up next and hit a sharp grounder to first base. With Wabasso’s baserunners slow to break, TMB was able to turn a 3-2-5 triple play.

The Panthers were unable to get out of the next inning unscathed. With one out, Callie Rohlik reached on a single and catcher Erin Liebl got on base thanks to an error and Janessa Baune knocked in what turned out to be the winning run with a base hit to right field.

TMB ends the season with a 16-8 record.

“It just seemed like we were knocking on the door the whole game and just couldn’t push through,” Skoglund said. “It’s a great group of girls. I have six seniors who all played a huge part on this team. It’s been a special group.”

Dawson-Boyd was also in action Saturday, thanks in part to a incredible comeback in its first-round game against BOLD on Thursday when the Blackjacks scored eight runs in the bottom of the seventh to pull out an 11-10 win. The runs never came for the Blackjacks on Saturday, as they fell to Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian 5-1 in their first game and were beaten by Windom Area 7-1 in an elimination game.

“We just couldn’t hit today,” Dawson-Boyd head coach John Nevins said. “The wind was blowing in and it was hard for us to get anything going.

“I don’t know if we were comfortable (because of Thursday’s comeback) and thought, well, we can come back. We just couldn’t get hits, or we hit the ball right at them.”

Dawson-Boyd, which will bring back all but two players next year, ends the season with a 13-7 record.