16U Monti Softball team comes together, conquers at Hopkins tourney

The 16U Monticello Black softball team is pictured after winning the Hopkins Royal Rampage Tournament. Team members are: Bottom row, left to right: Grace Binsfeld, Emma Blackstone, Hannah Ruzicka, Grace Watson, Samantha Knudson, Emma Smith. Top row: Coach Mike Blackstone, Alexis Compton, Kylee Beilke, Marin Thornton, Grace Norman, Coach Wayne Watson.  Not pictured: Maylei Schmitcke and Heather Bruley.  (Photo contributed)
The 16U Monticello Black softball team is pictured after winning the Hopkins Royal Rampage Tournament. Team members are: Bottom row, left to right: Grace Binsfeld, Emma Blackstone, Hannah Ruzicka, Grace Watson, Samantha Knudson, Emma Smith. Top row: Coach Mike Blackstone, Alexis Compton, Kylee Beilke, Marin Thornton, Grace Norman, Coach Wayne Watson. Not pictured: Maylei Schmitcke and Heather Bruley. (Photo contributed)

The Monticello Black girls 16U fastpitch softball team had a banner time this past weekend, bringing home the tournament championship from the Hopkins Royal Rampage Tournament.

The five-team 16U tournament started with pool play, where Monti went 2-1. The local squad beat a strong Cooper-Armstrong team 10-0 behind an 18-hit effort to highlight their pool play performance. Mike Blackstone, head coach of the Monti team, said CA threw varsity-level pitching at Monti, but the girls were up to the task.
“That was a good team,” said Blackstone. “We just played out of our minds. It was pretty neat.”
Monti also beat Columbia Heights, 7-2, in pool play while their lone loss came at the hands of Hopkins, as the strong-hitting hosts beat Monti 14-6.
Monti entered the bracket as the No. 2 seed, earning a semifinal rematch with Cooper Armstrong. Monti banged out 12 more hits in that one to pick up their second victory in as many days against CA. Samantha Knudson keyed the offensive attack in the game, with a double and two singles. Hannah Ruzicka, who just missed a cycle with a single, double, and triple in the first matchup, added a double and a single in the semifinal round. Emma Smith also had a big game, picking up three singles for Monti.
Alexis Compton picked up the win in the circle, throwing five innings and keeping CA off-balance the entire game.
Blackstone said Compton doesn’t have the highest velocity, but she knows how to pitch and that helped her limit Cooper Armstrong to just one hit in the contest.
“She just puts the ball where she wants it,” said Blackstone.
The semifinal victory moved Monti to the championship game, where they faced a Hopkins team that had beat them up just a day prior.
The championship game would be a much different result.
Monti knocked Hopkins star pitchers around, while Thompson and the defense limited any potential Hopkins offense as Monticello cruised to an 11-3 championship game victory.
Blackstone said it was likely the hardest-throwing pitcher that Monti has seen all year, but that the girls weren’t phased.
“They were bringing it,” he said, of the pitchers. “And our girls were all over it.”
Monti got results in the second inning, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
Grace Watson started the inning with a line drive off the shortstop’s glove for a base hit. Grace Binsfeld added a single, as did Compton to load the bases for Monti. Then Marin Thornton stepped up, and delivered a bases-clearing double to the right field fence to ignite Monti’s players and fans.
The rally wasn’t done yet, though. Grace Norman laid down a bunt single, followed by Ruzicka clearing the bases with a shot to the center field fence. Norman’s bunt was one of two successful bunt singles for her in the game. The second one, pushed down the first base line with the bases loaded, was as good as it gets, according to Blackstone.
“It was the most beautiful bunt I’ve ever seen,” he said. Monti would go on to score four runs in that fifth inning, putting the game, and championship, away.
On Monday, Blackstone was still blown away by the way the girls had played all weekend. He said it was a total team effort, from the batters box, to the circle, to the fielders.
He recalled several fielding gems from the weekend, including Knudson at shortstop and Emma Blackstone at third taking away a number of hits, and Smith making a shoestring catch in left field rob a batter.
“The defense was just spectacular,” he said. “We took tons of hits away.”
But the most impressive aspect of the weekend wasn’t a definable softball play, or even skill, but rather the way the girls came together, particularly after the pool play loss to Hopkins.
“You can hang your head, or you can keep playing and fight,” said Blackstone. “I just really think they came together as a team. It was pretty amazing.”
With the championship, Monti earns a North American Fastpitch Association national berth.

Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]