State softball: Randolph edges St. Agnes in 2A semis in epic pitching duel between Raymond, Proper

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NORTH MANKATO – Carter Raymond was as good as advertised in Thursday’s Class 2A semifinals.

The junior tossed a complete-game, one-hit shutout while striking out 11 batters. And yet the game was still a sweat to the final out – because St. Agnes’ star hurler was equally dominant.

Angela Proper allowed just four hits while striking out 13 batters for fifth-seeded St. Agnes, which fell 1-0 to the Randolph Rockets at Caswell Park.

Randolph will meet second-seeded Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial at 2 p.m. Friday in the state title game.

The Rockets have been more battle-tested at state than they’ve been for much of the year. Randolph’s only loss of the campaign came in the section finals to Caledonia. That, Raymond said, may have been a blessing in disguise.

“It definitely took some stress off me, personally,” she said. “It’s kind of like a breath of relief, because yeah, we’re beatable. But we showed how we can come back after a loss.”

And it showed the Rockets (26-1) can take a punch and bounce back. That was required Thursday, because Proper was landing one blow after another. The semifinal marked the only time all season Randolph was held to fewer than two runs.

“I know my abilities, and I knew a little bit of theirs. It was going to be a battle going in. I knew it was going to be close. The other pitcher, she did just an amazing job, but I knew we were close in abilities,” Proper said. “Just taking it one pitch at a time, trusting my team, really.”

St. Agnes stayed error-free throughout the contest. Proper lauded her squad’s fielding countless times, noting how proud she was of all of her teammates.

“This is my favorite team I think I’ve ever played on, because everyone has spirit. Everyone is confident in each other,” Proper said. “When I can trust my defense as a pitcher, it just makes life so much easier. Because I’m not afraid to go throw those risky strikes, because I know the defense will pick me up.”

Randolph’s lone run came in the top of the third, when Ella Banks came through with an RBI single. That was the Rockets’ only breakthrough, as Proper escaped a pair of bases-loaded jams.

St. Agnes (23-3) had a couple opportunities, as well. Twice the Aggies ended the inning with runners in scoring position, including in the seventh, when they opened the frame with their lone hit – a single through the left side from – who else – Proper, who then stole second, where she was stranded as Raymond ended the contest with a pair of strikeouts.

“We did have some chances, but they’re just very, very, very hard to generate against a pitcher like that,” St. Agnes coach Dan Berthiaume said. “I’ll give them credit – they strung two hits together, and that’s kind of what it takes in a game like this. … If you can hit a double with a runner on base, that can be the game right there. We were a double away from tying the game up, or maybe winning it.”

St. Agnes also reached the semifinals a year ago, but this trip feels different. Because the Aggies were dominant in their quarterfinal win over Proctor, and they went toe to toe Thursday against the tournament’s top seed. Berthiaume feels good that positive steps continue to be made. St. Agnes’ softball program is in excellent shape, and it has a lot to do with who’s in the circle. The coach said Proper has been “transformational” for the program.

“She’s so good. She’s just a very, very complete player,” Berthiaume said. “Beyond all of that, she’s just a gamer. Every time that she hits the field, you know you’re going to get 100 percent effort. You’re going to get that sort of gritty, tough approach to a game. The high-pressure stuff, it’s never easy to be in that spot, but she deals with it as well as any sophomore can possibly do that. I just couldn’t say enough good things about Angela.”

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