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Adapted softball: Thunderbolts take fourth at state

In their 12th state appearance, but first since 2007, the Thunderbolts adapted softball team earned fourth place in the 2012 Minnesota State High School League state adapted softball tournament, CI Division, in Coon Rapids.1 / 3
Thunderbolts pitcher Amanda Henderson and the team won their opening game of state by beating Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville, 17-7, last Friday. Henderson gave up six hits, seven runs and two earned runs.2 / 3
The Thunderbolts lose three seniors to graduation - Caleb Gotz, above, Hannah Behnken and Robert Foley.3 / 3

It wasn't a state title. But South Washington County adapted softball coach Denny Larson isn't complaining.

"It was great to be there again," said Larson, who concludes his 15th season with the Thunderbolts. "Of course, this group had never been there, so it was a good experience for them. They were pretty pumped."

In their 12th state appearance, but first since 2007, the Thunderbolts won their opening game of the Minnesota State High School League state adapted softball tournament, CI Division, in Coon Rapids by beating Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville 17-7 on Friday, June 1. In the following round, however, South Washington County fell to eventual-state champion Anoka-Hennepin, 17-2. The Thunderbolts went on to lose to Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville, 14-11, in the third-place game, finishing the tournament in fourth-place last Saturday.

Thunderbolts senior Caleb Gotz was happy about going out with a trophy.

"I am so proud of the team," he said. "We made it to state and I'm so proud."

Anoka-Hennepin won its third-straight title after beating the south division's top seed, Dakota United, 7-2, in the title game.

South Washington County, seeded No. 2 in the south division, defeated the north division's No. 3 seed, Mounds View, in 5 innings in the opening round - despite an early four-run deficit. After struggling with early errors, the Thunderbolts added seven runs by the end of the third inning and held Mounds View to two runs for the remainder of play.

"Our kids just went nuts; they did an excellent job," Larson said. "It was probably one of our best games this season."

Pitcher and all-state tournament team member Amanda Henderson gave up six hits, seven runs and two earned runs. Fellow all-state tournament athlete Lucas Coy went 4-for-4 at the plate, with two doubles, two runs and an RBI. Tristan Rankin was 3-for-3 with three RBI, four runs, a triple and a walk. Dylan Kubitschek was 3-for-4 with an RBI.

Two-time defending state champion Anoka-Hennepin, which maintained an unblemished record in 2012, defeated the Thunderbolts in five innings last Saturday in the semifinals. The south division's top seed, Dakota United was the only team to defeat South Washington County in the regular season - a 16-14 loss on April 30.

"We knew we were going into a hornet's nest," Larson said.

The Thunderbolts struggled to strategically place hits, popping up balls or hitting line drives straight to key Anoka personnel. They were behind 17-0 before scoring two runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. The runs, however, were not enough to extend the game past five innings.

"We just were not focused enough," Larson said. "It was a tough, tough loss."

In the third-place game, South Washington County went on to fall to the south division's No. 3 seed, Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville, despite previously besting the Blazing Cats, 7-4, on May 14. Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville burst into Saturday's game, holding the lead until South Washington County tied the game at 9-9 in the bottom of the fifth. The Thunderbolts took an 11-9 lead after six innings, but the Blazing Cats scored five runs -- on two outs -- in the top of the seventh to take the win.

Overall, the Thunderbolts finished its season 9-3 after finishing its 2011 campaign 5-6. It defeated three of the state tournament opponents during the regular season, including Minneapolis Roosevelt, Chaska/Chanhassen/Prior Lake/Shakopee and Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville, and its pitcher, Henderson, was the only female athlete named to the all-tournament team. The sophomore was the only pitcher for the Thunderbolts this season, Larson said.

"She had a 9-3 record, which is an amazing feat," he said. "She's been hit about 10 times - really hard sometimes - but that girl is an amazing young lady."

The 'Bolts now must say good-bye to three seniors - Gotz, Hannah Behnken and Robert Foley.