East Ridge softball: Raptors reach section championship, fall to Stillwater
East Ridge lost to Stillwater, but secured a spot in its first-ever section title game after a 10-4 victory over North St. Paul in the Section 4AAA tournament in North St. Paul.
The third-seeded Raptors (13-9) bounced back from a 7-5 loss earlier in the day to top-seeded Stillwater to earn a rematch with the defending state champions Thursday at McKnight Field with a section title on the line against Ponies ace Heather Heacox, who struck out 14 Wednesday against East Ridge.
"We've got a tough battle ahead of us," Raptors head coach Tom Nemo said. "We can hit her. We just need to lay off her riseball."
East Ridge unleashed some of its frustration from the Stillwater loss on the second-seeded Polars (20-4) with a big first inning where the Raptors batted 10 in the inning and built a 4-0 lead. East Ridge, which had only defeated fourth-ranked North St. Paul 3-1 last Thursday, went on to build an 8-0 lead after the second inning.
The Polars scored a pair of runs in the third and fourth innings and threatened in the fifth inning before a controversial play-at-the-plate ended the threat without any runs. With one out and the bases loaded, North St. Paul hit a ball to shallow right field and the Raptors gunned down the runner trying to score from third to keep it a 9-4 game.
"To comeback and eliminate that team ... that team had a nice run," Nemo said.
Sophomore catcher Olivia Huffman finished with three RBi, two runs and three hits to lead East Ridge. Freshman Anna Roth hit a solo homer in the second and added an RBI while junior pitcher Kelsey Ihns had three hits and three RBI.
Ihns also got the win on the mound after seven innings of work where she surrendered four runs on 12 hits, walked one and struck out five.
"She's a mentally tough kid," Nemo said of Ihns. "She's been our horse all year long."
Ihns bounced back after getting knocked around early against Stillwater in the semifinals. Ihns walked five in two innings against the Ponies and also gave up a grand slam in the second after allowing a one-out double and issuing a pair of walks.
Ihns finished with three strikeouts and five walks as the Raptors fell behind 5-0 after the second inning.
East Ridge got on the board in the fourth inning behind Roth's solo shot and then made a game of it in the fifth when junior shortstop Kayla Bohlke hit a three-run homer to make it a 5-4 game.
"We could have folded the tent in," Nemo said. "We didn't."
Stillwater increased its lead to 7-4 in the bottom of the fifth after Heacox led off the fifth with a solo homer and the Ponies added an RBI single from Natalie Gerber.
Raptors junior outfielder McKenna Karas drew it to 7-5 in the sixth with a solo homer, but East Ridge stranded two runners to close the inning to end the threat.
Ihns did not allow a walk after the second inning and gave up seven runs on eight hits while striking out four in six innings.
Raptors freshman outfielder Christina Pickett went 3-for-3 with a run and Ihns added two base hits.
Stillwater stranded six runners in the game.
East Ridge will need to win twice over the Ponies Thursday to gain an entry into the state tournament. Stillwater pulled off such a run en route to the state title last season.