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Adapted Softball: Thunderbolts lose twice in challenging state draw

First baseman Nick Jones of South Washington County has his eyes on the ball Saturday in a game against the Southern Stars. Photo by John Molene1 / 4
Second baseman Bryce Smith of the Thunderbolts makes a catch for an out Saturday. Photo by John Molene2 / 4
Ninth grade pitcher Matthew Jenkins throws a strike for the Thunderbolts against the Southern Stars Saturday in the state adapted softball tournament. Photo by John Molene3 / 4
South Washington County shortstop Tyler Tinucci gets an out and throws to first. Photo by John Molene4 / 4

It was a rare two strikes and you're out appearance for the South Washington County Thunderbolts in the 2017 state adapted softball tournament.

The Thunderbolts were eliminated after losing a pair of close decisions early in the tournament at Coon Rapids High School.

In the first game June 2, the Thunderbolts lost 11-9 to Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville.

Placed in the consolation round, South Washington County dropped a 9-8 heartbreaker in eight innings to Chaska/Chanhassen/Prior Lake/Shakopee.

It was a bit of a strange tournament. Both top-seeded teams lost in the first round, including No. 1 South seed the Southern Stars of Chaska/Chanhassen. That meant the Thunderbolts drew the top seed from the South in the first round of consolation, and a team which had handed them two of their three losses this season.

The game with the Southern Stars was tight throughout, being tied at 5-5, 7-7 and 8-8 before going to extra innings. Chaska's Teejon Gilliam hit an RBI single in the top of the eighth for the game-winner.

"Hats off to Chaska," South Washington County coach John Culbertson said. "It's tough to beat a team three times in the same season and every time it was closer and closer, so this one went extra innings. We always seemed to be one play away. We played really good defense.

Despite the early exit, the future is bright for South Washington County, which returns 11 of its top 14 players. But seniors Justin Neff, Casey Murnan and Ryan Freeman will be missed.

"I am proud of them, we've got a lot of new players," Culbertson said. "We've got three eighth-graders and a ninth grader starting on varsity, so that bodes well for the future. But we just didn't come up with the timely hits and made one too many errors, that's the difference in each game."

South Washington County has won three state championships in adapted softball, in 2004, 2005 and 2014.