NEW GERMANY – Mayer Lutheran softball coach Kris Gustin had a big decision to make in the bottom of the fourth inning. His team was down a run, with a runner at second and no one out.
With Chloe Kirt aboard, one of Mayer Lutheran’s top hitters stepped to the plate. After deliberating for some time, Gustin elected to play it safe and have Anna Baumann lay down a bunt to get the tying run into scoring position.
“She’s a good hitter,” Gustin said. “Maybe one of the best hitters on the team. In that situation, down one, you need a run. You’ve got to push that runner into second and hope you get two chances to get a run in.”
It looked as if it was going to backfire as Baumann couldn’t get the bunt down twice, but it all changed with one swing of the bat. With two strikes, Baumann blasted a two-run home run to center, giving Mayer Lutheran the lead and sparking their offense in a big way in their 5-1 victory over Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity Monday evening in the first round of the Section 4A tournament.
“I didn’t want to bunt,” Baumann said. “I hate bunting. I don’t know. I just swung.”
“She hates bunting,” Gustin agreed. “She hates it when I tell her to bunt, but she’s good at it. She struggled to get the two down, and then, it’s just sit back and foul off pitches and see what you get. They threw one kind of up in her tomahawk zone and she just pushed it out of here. It was a great hit.”
Baumann’s homer gave the Crusaders a 2-1 lead after four innings, but also gave freshman pitcher Maddi Saulsbury some more confidence in the circle as she was now pitching with a lead.
“It was super important,” Saulsbury said. “It helped shift the spirit of the team and got us more motivated. It kind of turned the game around for us.”
From the fifth inning on, Saulsbury was in control as she retired nine of the last 11 batters she faced to help seal the win for the Crusaders.
“There’s a lot of youth in both of these teams, especially on the mound,” Gustin said. “Neither one of them got rattled. Getting an early lead is important, and once they got that one, for us to bounce back and get two is a huge deal. Maddi hits locations and does a great job of throwing strikes. She doesn’t walk a lot of hitters. That’s good for us. When you play good defense, it’s tough to beat you. In playoffs, you want to come out and play clean.”
Baumann wasn’t the only Mayer Lutheran player with a key hit. Both Emma Lade and Symone Jopp were retired their first at-bats of the game, but worked on their swings between at-bats, which paid off big time.
“We talk to them about, if you’re the fourth, fifth or sixth batters in an inning, we want you on the tee,” Gustin said. “We want you doing that hitting progression and just kind of going through the mental work.”
A little tee work between innings for Lade and Jopp paid off big time. In the bottom of the fifth, Lade delivered with a two-out RBI single to extend Mayer Lutheran’s lead to 3-1. In the bottom of the sixth, it was Jopp’s turn to come through in the clutch. She delivered a two-RBI single with two outs, giving the Crusaders a 5-1 lead heading into the final inning.
“The one thing that’s been missing for us the last week or so, has been the clutch hit,” Gustin said. “In the first inning, with runners on second and third with no one out, we couldn’t get the clutch hit. For Symone and Emma to hit those two was huge to give us a little bit of a cushion. Symone had a rough day at Howard Lake, but today, she bounced back with two big hits for us. That was huge.”
Jopp also did it in the field for the Crusaders. In the top of the second, Jopp came through with a big relay to Lade at third base to get the final out of the inning and keep the Bulldogs off the board.
“This is the time of the year where you want to see your best players make plays,” Gustin said. “Symone’s had some arm issues, so it was really nice to see her throw the ball on the nose. It’s not quite as strong as it used to be, but it was definitely strong enough and right on the nose.”
Jopp wasn’t the only player to step up defensively for Mayer Lutheran. After Rylee Noerenberg was forced to leave with an injury after three innings, seventh-grader Bree Noerenberg was called on to come in and play a position she’s never played before.
“Playing a seventh-grader after her sister gets hurt (was tough),” Gustin said. “She made three big catches out there in the outfield, and she’s never played outfield before this year. That was huge for us.”
Defense has been a hit or miss thing for the Crusaders all season long, but they’ve started their postseason run strong, as they committed just one error in the win.
“All I needed to do was throw strikes,” Saulsbury said. “I knew my defense was behind me.”
For LP/HT, Liyah Lambrecht was tagged with the loss despite a strong performance on the rubber. She allowed just four earned runs in six innings of work while striking out two.
Offensively, Kayla Lorentz drove in the lone run of the game with an RBI single in the top of the fourth.
With the win, Mayer Lutheran advances to play top-seeded Randolph. The Rockets are the No. 5 ranked team in Class A, and finished third in the Class A state tournament last season.
“Randolph is good,” Gustin said. “They finished third in state last year. They return just about everybody. They play really solid in the field. One thing I feel positive about, is that we have really been hitting the ball. We’ve been seeing the ball well lately. Our hitting has really come alive.”
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