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Softball: Irish fight in to finals

Rosemount catcher Vanessa Dougherty shows the ball to the umpire after tagging an Eastview runner at the plate during last Wednesday’s Section 3AAA tournament game in Richfield. The runner was called safe and Eastview went on to win, 4-1.1 / 2
Nichole Johnson gets a force out at second base during last Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to Eastview.2 / 2

The end result was the same — a loss to Eastview — but the Rosemount softball team left Richfield after Saturday’s Section 3AAA finals feeling much better about their performance than they did last Wednesday.

The Irish ended their 16-9 spring season Saturday with a well-played 1-0 loss to the Lightning, who will carry a 17-game winning streak and a No. 4 state ranking into today’s Class 3A state tournament. Three days earlier, the same Lightning team took advantage of five Rosemount errors while scoring three unearned runs in a 4-1 victory that sent the Irish to the consolation bracket.

“You always want to end the season with a great game. I don’t think we could have done much more. It was good to see the girls battle back and not be nervous or scared,” Rosemount coach Tiffany Rose said. “We only had one error and the girls did a decent job at the plate. It’s a bummer only one team from our section gets to go to state. I think our section has some of the top teams in Minnesota.”

The Irish, ranked 11th in the state, had to defeat second-ranked Bloomington Jefferson just to get to last Wednesday’s semifinal. They fell behind Eastview 1-0 in the first, and then several defensive miscues allowed the Lightning to tack on single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth.

The offense also struggled, failing on multiple sacrifice bunt attempts that halted rallies in the early innings. It was 3-0 by the time Anna Hinderaker tripled with a deep drive off the right-fielder’s glove to plate Shannon Dawson with the Irish’s lone run.

Saturday’s rematch remained close the whole way. The Irish had just three hits, but nearly took the lead in the fourth when Kennedy Rieck singled with runners on first and second. Coach Rose gambled and waved home Madi Van Sickle, who was thrown out to end the inning.

“I took a little bit of a chance there. Van Sickle is one of our best base runners. If I was in that situation again, I would send her again. Their centerfielder made a great play on the ball,” Rose said. “It was probably our best offensive chance, but even after that we battled. We had great at bats, it just didn’t go our way.”

An inning later, Eastview used a walk, a bunt and a single to score the lone run of the game on another close play at the plate.

Rosemount starter Gabby Sprang allowed five hits and struck out three. She had six strikeouts and allowed just four hits on Thursday when the Irish defeated Eagan 6-2 in the consolation championship to set up a rematch with Eastview.

Meghan Olson belted her first home run of the season and Nichole Johnson and Hinderaker each had RBI hits.

“They were down a little bit at the beginning of the game, but really picked it up,” Rose said. “They wanted to get back to the section finals and did a good job of taking advantage of Eagan’s mistakes.”

The victory gave the South Suburban Conference champions 16 wins for the second year in a row. Part of both teams were seniors Johnson, Van Sickle, Hinderaker, Maddy Moran and Nicole Hutchinson.

“I think every year you want to be in a position to have the opportunity to play at state. I think we have a great opportunity the next couple of years to be in the same situation,” Rose said. “Moving forward we need to be a little more consistent at the plate and on defense. We have some great players leaving, and some players moving up that can help us get back here next year.”

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