NORTH MANKATO - In the biggest game of the season, it's always nice to at least be able to take advantage of key situations.
New Life Academy had more than its fair share of chances to break the Class A state championship game open against New Ulm Cathedral. But the Greyhounds had defense on their side and a little help from the No. 7.
The Greyhounds used seven hits and won their seventh state title with a 3-1 victory over the Eagles, seven years after their last state title.
NLA had 11 hits in the game. But the Eagles left 11 runners on base and the Greyhounds gave head coach Bob Mertz his seventh state title, his first with assistant coaches Jamie Portner and Kaitlin DuChene, former state champion players for Mertz.
The win cements the legacy of the five seniors for the Greyhounds. Lindsay Simon, Abby Hauser, MacKinnon Ehlenz, Kristin Mohr and Karlee Pfaff have been to a bunch of state tournaments and now they get to be a part of a very distinguished group of former players that have won state championships at Cathedral.
"It's amazing, after all of those years of getting defeated in the first or second round [of state], being able to bring home consolation or third place, this is for all of those teams that just kind of pushed us to where we all now," Pfaff said.
"The torch was passed and they carried it well," he said. "Karlee's been with me for four years and the other seniors for three years. It was destined and they wanted it. They wanted it all year."
Pfaff had a couple of hits early, including a two-run single that scored Jenessa Rothmeier and Morgan Schabert to put Cathedral ahead 2-0 in the third inning. Pfaff was one of several that could have made the case for player of the game after it was all said and done. But in her typical fashion, she complimented the younger players who got on base before her.
"Just being a senior, you want to help these younger girls, they got on for me, if it weren't for them, that wouldn't have happened," Pfaff said. "Hats off to them, they had to be on base too."
The Greyhounds made big plays all day. But the big one came in the sixth inning when Simon denied the Eagles a chance to score the tying run.
At that point, Cathedral led 2-1 and the Eagles had runners on first and second. Krista Haglund had a single up the middle, but Simon picked up the ball and watched Hannah Nelson round third on her way home. Simon fired the ball home and the ball skipped past Kristin Mohr, who was in position to cut the ball off. The ball ended up in Pfaff's glove, who applied the tag to Nelson for the second out of the inning. The inning ended on a grounder to Berdan, who made a nice back-handed play at short.
"Right before she hit the ball, the outfield knew to throw the ball home," Simon said. "I saw the ball was hit to me, so I ran up and scooped it. Once it came from my arm, I knew it was right on target. It was a little short but Kristin Mohr let it go through and Karlee got the ball."
As if the throw wasn't enough to dampen the Eagles' spirits, Simon felt she didn't have enough. She buried them with an RBI single in the seventh for the 3-1 margin and Rothmeier scored her second run of the game.
"It felt amazing, my hitting hasn't been too good lately, but my team has been cheering me on and my coaches have been working with me," Simon said. "It really paid off and I'm really happy about it."
Sophomore Anna Mohr pitched seven innings and got the win. She gave up 11 hits and one run. She struck out four and walked one. And according to Pfaff, her catcher, she didn't get nervous once.
"She's always calm out there, she has that face, she's ready to go," Pfaff said. "Even last year, she was here as a freshman and you would think she'd be a little riled up, but nope, she's here to do business."
Rothmeier was one of the key hitters for the Greyhounds in the leadoff spot. She went 3-for-4 with two runs scored.
"It's amazing," Rothmeier said. "I was able to just play my game and be under control."
NLA's lone run came in the fifth inning after Valeri Hohol singled to score Chloe Westland. Like so many times throughout the game, the Eagles had runners on base but weren't able to cash in after that.
Hohol took the loss. She pitched seven innings and allowed three runs and she walked four.
Overall, it was a game between the state's two best teams, a pair of teams that have won 11 state titles between them.
"It was very special," Mertz said. "We've had their number the last couple of years, but he's a very good coach and we were joking in the game about who was going to get the first big hit. It's neat to be able to beat a program like that.
"We've got a young team, those young girls could be back here next year too."