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Prep Softball; KMS' march to title game cut short by NL Academy

(Tribune photo by Rand Middleton) On this swing, Lori McCain of Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg hits a grounder to second base to score Erin Haglund from third base during the fifth inning at Caswell Park in North Mankato during the Class A semifinals against New Life Academy.

NORTH MANKATO -- Although they lost on the scoreboard, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg won a victory of sorts late Thursday afternoon against New Life Academy.

The Eagles (23-4) sweated out a 3-2 win in the Class A state softball semifinals on Field No. 2 at Caswell Park.

New Life, an evangelical Christian school in Woodbury, is the three-time defending champion and will play today for the fifth straight year in the championship game.

Here's how dominating they've been this postseason: before playing KMS, the Eagles had outscored seven opponents 75-1 in the postseason.

NLA crushed previously unbeaten Osakis in the quarterfinals 13-0 while the Fighting Saints squeezed out their 22nd win without a loss by shading Hawley, another undefeated, 1-0 in the morning quarterfinals.

It was the first loss after 22 wins for KMS.

"I'm pretty proud of how the girls played," said KMS coach Eileen Suter.

"We stuck with them and fielded pretty well. We haven't hit that much down here but the caliber of pitching is about two notches up."

KMS took the tourney- savvy Eagles to the limit, scoring two runs in the bottom of the fifth to tie the game 2-2. Pitcher Erin Haglund singled and later scored from third on a ground out to second off the bat of Lori McCain.

That ended a streak of four consecutive shutouts pitched by the Eagles' Rebekah Schmidt in the state tournament. Courtney Olson, who drew the only walk off of Schmidt, moved up with Haglund on a sacrifice bunt by Brielle Hauge.

Olson took third on McCain's ground ball and scored on a rare wild pitch by Schmidt to tie the score.

Enough of that, the four-time all-state tournament player seemed to say. She struck out six Saints in a row before Olson grounded back to Schmidt for the final out in the bottom of the seventh.

Schmidt, a senior headed for Drake University and playing in her sixth state tournament, struck out 13 Saints while allowing only Haglund's sharp single up the middle in the fifth.

"She's probably the best I've seen in all my years," said Suter. "Her change-up is outstanding, her curve totally fooled us. But I think we had her a little rattled in the fifth. She wasn't the same pitcher."

Haglund pitched a gritty game against a team that demolishes many pitchers. Every Eagle took good cuts and eight starters would get at least one hit. But the sophomore displayed outstanding control and her fielders, especially the outfielders, made good plays on hard-hit balls.

The Eagles finished with 11 hits. The go-ahead run scored in the sixth was unearned, though the inning began with back-to-back singles.

The two runs scored by KMS were the first allowed by NLA pitching in three years at state. The streak of shutouts extended back to the 2009 semifinals -- a streak of six shutouts until Haglund crossed the plate standing up in the fifth.

At deadline, the other semifinal game between Cherry/Cotton and Blooming Prairie, scheduled for a 7 p.m. start, was running very late due to thunder and lighting in the Mankato area.

NL Academy 3, KMS 2

New Life Acad. 002 001 0 -- 3 11 0

KMS 000 020 0 -- 2 1 2

HITTING - New Life Academy: Lauren St. Johns 1-for-3, Amanda Heidmann 1-for-4, rbi; Rebekah Schmidt 2-for-4, 2b, rbi; Katie Stodolka 2-for-3; Val Hohol 2-for-4; Natalie Schad 1-for-4; Nicole Johnson 1-for-3; Malorie Giere 1-for-3 ... Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg: Erin Haglund 1-for-3

PITCHING (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) -- New Life Academy: Rebekah Schmidt (W) 7-1-2-1-1-13 ... Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg: Erin Haglund (L) 7-11-3-2-0-3


KMS 1, Hawley 0

KMS won a meeting of unbeatens in the first-round in dramatic fashion Thursday morning.

The Fighting Saints scored the game's only run on a Courtney Olson single in the top of the seventh inning to nudge the Hawley Nuggets.

Erin Haglund scored easily from third with none out. Haglund had reached on a single to right field, only the team's second hit off Hawley ace Jessy Noreen. Haglund was able to take third when the ball got by the right fielder.

Olson then followed with her second hit of the game.

The Nuggets, however, threatened in the bottom half of the seventh. Back-to-back one-out singles put runners on first and third. KMS coach Eileen Suter went to the circle and brought in Haglund from shortstop to pitch. Sam Dunn, who allowed just three hits and no walks, went to short.

Noreen, a .400 hitter during the season, hit a liner to the right of first baseman Lyndsay Jorgenson, who then snagged the ball and stepped on first for an unassisted double play to end the game.

The Nuggets has only a third-inning single off Dunn through the first six innings. But in the seventh, she lost something off her fastball and Kelsey Aakre and Aundie Softing each reached on singles.

"Coach told me she was going to bring in Erin if they started hitting me," said Dunn. "We have two different speeds, two different styles. So when she came out I knew what she was going to do. It was the smart thing."

Noreen, faster than most pitchers the Saints have seen, fanned seven, allowed three hits and walked two. It was the first loss she suffered on the season.

Olson had two of the Saints' three hits.

KMS 000 000 1 -- 1 3 1

Hawley 000 000 0 -- 0 3 1

HITTING - Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg: Erin Haglund 1-for-3; Courtney Olson 2-for-3, 2b, rbi ... Hawley: Kelsey Aakre 1-for-3; Aundie Softing 2-for-3

PITCHING (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) -- Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg: Samantha Dunn (W) 61/3-3-0-0-0-3, Erin Haglund (S) 2/3-0-0-0-0-0 ... Hawley: Jessy Noreen (L) 7-3-1-0-2-7

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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