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Park softball: Wolfpack beats defending state champion Stillwater

The skies cleared, the diamonds dried out, and it was time for the Park softball team to take the field in the Suburban East Conference.

Because of the spell that Mother Nature cast on Minnesota sports this spring, the teams are having to play double headers in hopes to catch up with their season.

A day after practicing outdoors for the first time all spring, the Wolfpack traveled to Stillwater and split a pair of games against the defending Class AAA state champion, winning 1-0 and losing 7-4.

Game No. 1 pitted returning junior pitcher Amber Galloway from Park against Stillwater's ace Hannah Heacox. The Wolfpack hitters wasted no time getting on the board in the first inning when senior Mary Turitto drew a lead-off walk, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Sam Flack's single to put Park up 1-0.

"It's always nice to play with the lead," Park head coach Bob Loshek said. "Anytime you can get out front and put pressure on a team, it's huge. As the game gets into the later innings, the pressure mounts even more for the opposing team to score runs.

That proved to be all that Galloway would need as she and the Wolfpack defense prevented the Ponies from plating any of their players.

"Amber threw an outstanding game," Loshek said. "She kept teams off balance by changing speeds as well as moving the ball around the zone. When you pitcher keeps you in the game by throwing strikes and your defense makes the plays behind her, you are able to beat great teams like Stillwater."

In the second game of the double dip, Park eighth grader Hanna Mortenson took the hill against Stillwater senior Rachel Rhode.

With Mortenson pitching well in her debut, Park took a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the third inning when Turitto singled and advanced to second on a Rachel Suter sacrifice bunt. Flack doubled plating Turitto and after Amber Galloway's fly out to right field moved Flack to third, another Rhode wild pitch plated Flack to give the Park the lead.

Stillwater put up one run on Mortenson in the fifth inning to cut Park's lead to 4-3. Loshek said he could see his starting pitcher was giving all she could to get out of the inning.

"She was exhausted," he said. "With all of the energy in the air, put together with the adrenaline that goes into your first varsity start, Hanna was fighting to get out of that inning. She pitched a great game against the defending state champions in her first varsity start. Now she knows what she needs to do to get hitters out at this level."

Galloway took over for Mortenson and held the Ponies scoreless until the top of the seventh when the top of the order for Stillwater took over and scored four runs to take a 7-4 lead. Stillwater held on in the bottom of the frame for the win.

"Amber did a fine job coming in to relieve Hanna," Loshek said. "They just hit the ball in the right spot. We didn't kick it around, they hit a few gaps and there went the lead. Our pitchers pitched their hearts out and our defense played very well. We couldn't have played much better than that."

Park was in White Bear Lake on Monday, after the Bulletin went to press. Next, the Wolfpack welcomes Woodbury to Charlie Whibread Field on Wednesday for a double-header, before going to rival East Ridge on Thursday for two games.

"Now we will have to get back on that horse for there isn't any time to practice," Loshek said. "We have been practicing for seven weeks straight, now, so it will be two games a day for two weeks. In the end it will look like a short season, which it will be, but the better teams will find ways to move past it and get the job done."