SLEEPY EYE - The Sleepy Eye St. Mary's Knights won the first round of the Section 2A, North softball playoffs by a margin of two runs and eight feet.
Their 2-0 victory over the Cleveland Clippers was the result of two bunts that went a total of four feet and the two pairs of legs belonging to the bunters, Emily Schumacher and Larissa Helget.
After Cleveland pitcher Cassidy Kopet went through the St. Mary's batting order without a runner or hit the first three innings, Knights' coach Wendy Owens made a decision.
"We went to small ball," Owens said. "We needed to make some things happen. Schumacher and Helget got on base, and Bethany Berkner and Karissa Fleck got them in."
But it wasn't easy. The Clippers stranded two runners in the third. Then Molly Zimmerman and Kopet opened the fourth with singles to right. However, instead of runners at first and second with no out, Zimmerman tried to take third and was thrown out. Winning pitcher Maddy Helget then coaxed a popup and threw a strikeout to end the threat.
This led to Schumacher leading off the bottom of the fourth with her three-foot bunt, then taking second on a wild pitch. Larissa Helget's bunt barely made it in front of the plate and she took second because no Cleveland player was within 15 feet of the bag.
Schumacher scored on Berkner's grounder to second, which also advanced Larissa Helget to third. Fleck's long fly out to center made it 2-0.
The Knights had another scoring opportunity in the sixth, but had a runner thrown out at third for the final out. That led to some tense moments for St. Mary's fans in the Cleveland seventh.
Kopet led off with an infield hit and Anna Dickie walked. Anna Ely then bunted foul on three pitches for the first out, but was followed by Megan Gjemse single to load the bases.
Maddy Helget then ran the count on Bailey Ellickson to 3-2 and got Ellickson to fishing for a high fastball that would have been ball four and scored a run. Helget struck out the next batter for the Knights win.
St. Mary's will host New Ulm Cathedral at 5 p.m. Thursday.