The Magic softball team appears to be getting hot at just the right time.
Monti won three out of four games last week, in their busiest week of the season, to improve to 6-10 on the season. The Magic, winners of four of their last five, are currently in position to get a top-four seed when postseason play begins next week.
Following a win against Willmar and a heartbreaking loss against Becker early last week, Monti added a 2-1 walk-off win against Chisago Lakes on Wednesday and another last-inning 4-3 win at Big Lake on Thursday.
Coach Mary Libbesmeier said the season has been a work in progress for Monti, but that they’re starting to complete the process.
“We’ve had some great performances,” said Libbesmeier, adding that “it’s the dedication of the players that has got us to this point.”
Playing at home against Chisago Lakes on Wednesday, the Magic nearly walked off the Wildcats in the bottom of the seventh. With the game tied 1-1, Jamie Axelberg lifted a deep fly ball toward the outfield fence. The ball just missed clearing the fence, instead hitting the top and coming back into play and forcing Axelberg to settle for a double. She’d be stranded there, sending the game to extra innings. But Monti would need just one extra frame.
Caitlin Hinz, Monti’s star freshman pitcher, led off the eighth with a single. Kelsey Watter came on as a courtesy runner for Hinz. Watter moved to second when Rilee Marquette was hit by a pitch next. With two on, Faith Kopff came through. The junior delivered a base hit to the outfield and Watter came wheeling around from second base to score the winning run.
Libbesmeier said the walk-off win was a real treat, especially considering Monti has been on the other end a few times.
“It felt very fulfilling to come through and finish the job,” she said. “You couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Hinz threw all eight innings in the win, allowing just one run on seven hits while striking out nine Chisago Lakes batters. Kopff went 3-for-4 with both of Monti’s RBIs, including the game-winner. Axelberg went 2-for-4, Alayna Manning went 2-for-3 and Dani Scadden picked up a hit and scored Monti’s first run.
The Magic were back at it Thursday for their fourth game in as many days. Monti took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning, but the Hornets found some late-inning magic of their own. Big Lake scored twice in the inning, taking a one run lead into the final frame.
Monti wasn’t to be outdone. With one out in the top of the seventh, Axelberg singled to start a threat. With two outs, Monti drew a walk, putting Scadden on with Axelberg. Hinz was up next and came through for the second consecutive game, knocking a single to the outfield to plate Axelberg and tie the game at 3. After that, Marquette was hit by a pitch (for the third time in the game) to load the bases. With Scadden standing on third, the Hornets had a pitch get away from the catcher and Scadden scampered home with the go-ahead run. Monti held the Hornets off the board in the bottom of the inning to pick up a key conference and section victory and earn a season sweep of Big Lake.
Hinz, throwing her fourth game in four days, was brilliant on the mound once again. The freshman scattered seven hits and two walks, while striking out eight batters to pick up the win. She also went 2-for-4 at the dish.
Axelberg continued her tear as well. The senior slugger picked up two hits in the contest, including a solo home run. Kylee Beilke added a hit and an RBI for the Magic and Manning picked up a hit in three at-bats as well.
Currently, Monti sits fourth in Section 5AAA via the QRF rankings that will be used to determine seeding. Monti has a 3-2 record within the section, and plenty of reason to believe they can compete for a title when postseason play starts next week. The No. 3 seed is Big Lake, a team that Monti swept this season. The No. 2 seed is Becker, who Monti led 3-1 going to the bottom of the 7th last week before falling. And the top seed is Rocori. The Spartans have just one loss this year, but the Magic had them down 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh before a three-run home run gave Rocori the walk-off win a few weeks ago.
Libbesmeier said the team hasn’t spent much time talking about the big picture of a postseason run quite yet. They’re still focused on the details and the day in, day out process that has been working quite well for them during the past couple of weeks.
“We just keep reinforcing playing hard, and playing to our caliber,” said Libbesmeier. “As long as we play our game, I don’t care what the other team does. If we stick to that, we’re going to be right on track.”
Monti was scheduled to play at Zimmerman on Tuesday afternoon before finishing the regular season with 4:30 p.m. home games against Buffalo and Rogers on Wednesday and Thursday of this week respectively. Following that, postseason play will begin Tuesday, May 23. If the Magic remain a top-four seed, they will host a first round game. The second round of the double-elimination section tournament will be held Thursday, May 25 at the high seed.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]