State softball: Forest Lake gets numerous key contributions in 4A quarterfinal win over Eden Prairie

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NORTH MANKATO – There are times where Forest Lake coach Sean Hall said his team gets in the habit of trying to do a bit too much offensively.

“Everyone is trying to hit a five-run homer,” Hall said. “Then, all of a sudden, our offense stalls.”

That’s likely what took place in the Class 4A quarterfinals against unseeded Eden Prairie at Caswell Park. The second-seeded Rangers scored three runs in the first inning, then nothing over the next four frames.

Until Brie Bakke stepped up to the dish with a pair of runners on in the sixth.

The wind was blowing strongly and was rather unpredictable Wednesday in North Mankato. So Bakke’s mentality stepping into the box was rather simple:

“I was thinking, ‘Think right side, think right side, think right side and use the ground,’” Bakke said. “Honestly, I think more team swing than me swing. I do what’s best for the team.”

Bakke stuck to her plan, laced a single through the right side of the infield, and the Rangers gained an insurance run to go up 4-1.

Ava Stenglein followed that up with an RBI single of her own. The junior right fielder went 2 for 3 with three runs batted in as the Rangers went on to win, 5-1.

“It’s nice. Now we know that we have to work a little bit harder, that we struggled to generate runs,” Bakke said. “But now we know that we can work well as a team in those stressful situations.”

Forest Lake will meet third-seeded Rogers at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Class 4A semifinals in North Mankato. Rogers topped Edina 7-0 on Wednesday.

Rangers ace Hannah Tong earned the win in the circle, throwing 6 ⅔ innings of three-hit ball.

Eden Prairie mounted only two serious threats in the game. The first came in the fifth inning, with the Rangers leading 3-0. A pair of errors, a walk and two hits – one being a bunt single – moved Eden Prairie to within 3-1, and the Eagles had the bases juiced with one out.

It was at that point when Tong decided to trust her defense and truly attack the strike zone.

She struck the next batter. And then her defense shined for the final out of the frame – her defense, specifically. Tong nabbed a line drive that came right back to her.

“That was a little scary,” Tong noted, “but sometimes I can trust myself.”

“She’s a bulldog. She’s going to come through when you need her to. She comes up with big hits, and she’s just a gamer,” Hall said of his pitcher. “Today maybe wasn’t her best game ever, but I know, when the chips are down, she’s going to come through for us.”

Tong loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, bringing the tying run to the plate for Eden Prairie. At that point, Hall turned to Avery Muellner. The sophomore has long been a critical component of the Rangers’ rotation, but an arm injury has kept her out of the circle for most of the campaign.

Entering Wednesday, she’d tossed one inning all spring.

And in a pressure-packed spot in the state quarters, she induced a harmless fly ball to close out the contest.

“If she can do that for us, that’s what we need from her,” Hall said. “She has worked her butt off to get back, worked on her PT and everything else. She’s just an incredible pitcher, and an incredible player.”

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