Playing at home Thursday afternoon, the Magic softball team entered the bottom of the first inning facing St. Cloud Tech, and a whole lot more.
They were facing a 13-game losing skid.
And they were facing a 3-0 deficit, just three outs into the game.
The Magic could have thrown in the towel. Instead, they battled.
“They put their nose to the grindstone,” said Magic Coach Mary Libbesmeier. “They were ready to take care of what they needed to take care of.”
The immediate result was three first inning runs. The end result was a 12-4 victory, snapping their skid and they hope springing them toward a strong finish.
Gabby Gardner, the team’s cornerstone and lone senior, sparked the Magic in the first. She lifted a single to right field, reigniting spirits that may have been dampened by the 3-0 deficit.
Payton Hanson added a bunt single, putting two on and no outs for the Magic.
Alissa VonderHaar knew what to do with runners on base, the team leader in RBIs (24) did what she has done all year.
VonderHaar crushed a pitch to right field for a double, scoring both baserunners.
The Magic would add one more on a sacrifice fly, making it a new ball game starting in the second inning.
Magic pitcher Bret Hulett took advantage of the fresh start. She mowed down the side in the second, bringing the hot Magic bats right back up to the plate.
After two girls reached on errors, Gardner lined a single into the outfield to fill the bases with no outs.
From there, the Magic started manufacturing runs. Hanson put the ball on the ground, and when the second baseman couldn’t handle the hop, two Magic runners came in to score and Hanson reached safely.
Gardner would score on an ensuing wild pitch, that also advanced Hanson to third base. When VonderHaar added an RBI groundout, scoring Hanson, it was suddenly 7-3, Magic.
Defense and pitching kept the Magic right there. Hulett added another scoreless inning, and when Esther Watson came in to replace her, there was no letup.
Watson kept the Tigers off-balance in the fourth and fifth inning, getting Monticello to the bottom of the fifth with the lead still intact.
In the bottom, Gabby Laimer turned in an impressive all-around effort that led to another Magic run. After leading off with a well-hit double, Laimer was quick enough to take third base on a passed ball. When the next batter knocked one into the ground, Laimer got a good jump and scored easily on the RBI groundout, making it 8-3.
After another three up, three down inning for Watson, the Magic decided to do a little more damage in the sixth inning.
Back-to-back doubles by Molly Schacht and Gardner quickly made it 9-3. Ashley Fessenden added an RBI single, followed by a Watson single up the middle to load the bases. A walk to Laimer pushed across Monticello’s 11th run, their highest total of the season, with the 12th scoring on an ensuing error.
Monticello gave up one run in the seventh, but it was no matter. Victory was in hand.
“Everything has been a step-by-step improvement,” said Libbesmeier, about this season. “Everything came together [today].”
Monticello would carry the momentum from the win with them to Friday.
The Magic handled Rocori, an upper-echelon team in the Classic Lakes Conference, 11-3.
The win gives Monticello a two-game winning streak, a huge bright spot in what has been a tough season for the young and inexperienced Magic.
“We’re a very young team,” said Libbesmeier. “It’s taken us a while to get used to the level that we’re playing and the adjustments that we need to make.”
One person who has been consistent throughout is Gardner.
“She is a staple on this team,” said Libbesmeier. “She does a nice job at third base and she is excellent in the leadoff spot. She never becomes overwhelmed.”
Gardner is second on the team with a .339 batting average, behind VonderHaar who is hitting .409. Gardner also leads the team with six walks and 16 runs scored.
Plus, she’s a leader off the field.
“She’s very positive, very encouraging,” added Libbesmeier. “She has expectations of herself, but also of her teammates.”
For Gardner, those expectations were more than met in Thursday’s skid stopping win over St. Cloud Tech.
“It was amazing,” said Gardner, shortly after the game. “It’s definitely good to get the monkey off our back. Now we feel like we can go forward, instead of being stuck where we were. We feel like we’re really starting to come together.”
Friday’s win over Rocori showed that it might be more than just a feeling.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at firstname.lastname@example.org