State softball: Mankato East rallies past Cretin-Derham Hall in seventh for Class 3A title

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NORTH MANKATO, Minn. — Cretin-Derham Hall left fielder Audrey Michel went back to the fence, leapt up and snared a ball that was potentially going over the fence for a Mankato East home run in the top of the sixth inning to preserve the Raiders’ 1-0 lead in the Class 3A softball state tournament title game at Caswell Park.

Center fielder Samantha Haider raced over and nearly tackled her teammate to the ground in excitement.

“Last year, Sami did it two times, she met the fence and caught it on the fence, and we all were super excited,” Michel said. “When you have a close game and you make a play that keeps it a close game, it’s all really exciting for everyone. I know everyone wanted it so bad, so the excitement was just rushing through everyone.”

Raiders coach Carolyn Osdoba said the play was “incredible,” and noted how it signified Cretin-Derham Hall’s effort on Friday.

“They put it all on the field, and that’s all you can ask for in a championship game,” Osdoba said, “so I’m very proud of them.”

That they delivered such an effort likely provides the top-seeded Raiders a little added comfort following their 6-1 loss to third-seeded Mankato East, which rallied with six runs in the final inning to win its second straight Class 3A championship.

Mankato East slugger Hailey Petzel opened the top of the seventh with a solo shot over the center-field fence to tie the score at 1-1.

“It was the best feeling in the world. I was screaming, I was throwing my hands up. It was awesome,” Petzel said. “I was so happy. Finally being able to score, especially in the seventh, I feel like it shifted the momentum to our side.”

Osdoba noted that hit wasn’t necessarily a surprise. Petzel is known for hitting bombs.

“It was unfortunate after that that we couldn’t pull it together and get those outs (after that),” Osdoba noted.

From there, Mankato East simply put balls in play, and mental and physical errors seemed to snowball for the Raiders (20-7), as the Cougars (20-6) largely used small ball to score their next five runs and all but put the game out of reach.

“It was crazy. We were all screaming,” Petzel said of the Cougars’ dugout during the seventh inning. “I think I lost my voice at one point.”

Sometimes, when the avalanche starts to roll, it’s tough to get it to stop.

“That can definitely be difficult,” Osdoba said. “You’ve just got to take a deep breath, do the best you can and stick with it.”

Cretin-Derham Hall’s lone run in the game came in the bottom of the fourth inning on a two-out base hit to right by Maddie Mulcahy. But even that play felt like the Raiders left something on the table, as a base-running snafu ended the play and the inning.

Still, that felt like it might be enough for Raiders pitching ace Brooke Nesdahl, who has been sensational all season in the circle for Cretin-Derham Hall.

“She pitched basically every inning for our team this season, which is incredible. She’s a competitor,” Osdoba said. “I couldn’t ask for more from Brooke.”

But Mankato East did what champions do, finding a way to apply pressure and scratch things out when it mattered most.

Friday serves as another learning lesson from an extremely young Raiders roster, which will lose just one senior starter to graduation.

A year ago, Mankato East edged the Raiders in 10 innings in the state semifinals en route to a title. This time around, Osdoba said her team was far more comfortable in the state tournament environment. And the Raiders took yet another step.

Now they know what the championship game atmosphere is all about. Friday marked the Raiders’ first title game appearance since 1991. The excitement around the program was evident from the fans in purple shirts who lined the fences.

“This team, what a phenomenal season,” Osdoba said. “Our athletic director pointed out how big the crowd was, how many people came to watch, which was super cool, and a bunch of little girls came to watch. So hopefully they can remember the community support and that aspect of things. … It sucks (losing this game). But hopefully eventually we can look back at the season and be proud of all we accomplished.”

And look forward to what may still be to come.

“We want to be the first team to win a state championship. … We’re excited just to be better and come back next year,” Michel said. “Even last year, getting third place, we wanted it so much more this year. And I know that getting second this year, we’re just going to want it that much more next year.”

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