MARSHALL - Recent history shows that the Section 3AA softball playoffs usually comes down to a best-of-three series between New Ulm and Pipestone.
The teams have met in the finals several times, with New Ulm finally beating the Arrows last year en route to the school's first-ever state championship.
This year, the cards didn't seem to be in New Ulm's favor as the Eagles dropped the first game between the two to drop into the loser's bracket. But on Thursday, New Ulm won two games to advance to state, winning 5-4 in nine innings before an 8-1 win in the nightcap.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
New Ulm senior shortstop Brittany Hoffmann celebrates the Eagles win in the second game of the Section 3AA Championship against Pipestone Thursday in Marshall.
New Ulm (22-3) will play in the Class AA state tournament at 1 p.m. next Thursday against Maple River, a team that also won two straight games on Thursday to advance to state.
The two wins were especially nice since the Arrows won convincingly the last time the two teams met.
"After the 7-0 loss to them last time, it was kind of nice to group together as a team," junior Rachel Strandmark said. "I feel we just played a better all-around game."
The first game was a back-and-forth affair, with the Eagles finally nailing down the win in the top of the ninth when Brittany Hoffmann doubled and scored on Kali Denn's hit. Hoffmann scored two runs in the first game and Strandmark and Katie Forst had a pair of hits.
While the first game was a typical close game between the two powers in 3AA, the second game was anything but that.
New Ulm scored twice in the bottom of the first to go up 2-1, then scored five times in the bottom of the fourth to pull away with a commanding 7-1 lead.
"The big thing we talked about is that it's always a best-of-three with Pipestone and we gotta win two, so why not make a doubleheader of it," New Ulm coach Kristi Andersen Loose said. "We made some changes in the last day of practice to make sure we were ready for today. They've been ready for this all year and I'm just glad they came out and played good ball like we needed to play."
Strandmark scored three runs in the second game and Ellie Schneider added five RBIs.
The Eagles added one more run in the sixth and the celebration was on after the final out in the seventh. The Arrows end their season at 19-3.
In both games, the Eagles used a combination of Sydney Schuck and Brittany Denn, and the two seemed to keep the Arrows off-balance.
"I just know as a player myself, it's tough adjusting to pitchers," Andersen Loose said. "As long as it doesn't hurt us defensively, it's always tough when you don't know who you're going to face."