PREP SOFTBALL: Section loss to Lake of the Woods pushes Red Lake Falls
RED LAKE FALLS, Minn. -- This flashback moment only added to Red Lake Falls' resolve. The Eagles cruised through their first four games in the Minnesota Section 8A high school softball tournament, outscoring opponents 31-4. Then, in the first cha...
RED LAKE FALLS, Minn. -- This flashback moment only added to Red Lake Falls' resolve.
The Eagles cruised through their first four games in the Minnesota Section 8A high school softball tournament, outscoring opponents 31-4. Then, in the first championship game of the double-elimination portion of the tournament, RLF committed five errors in a 9-3 loss to Badger-Greenbush-Middle River.
It was shades of a year ago when Red Lake Falls allowed three runs in the final inning in a season-ending 6-3 playoff loss to Lake of the Woods.
"We're thinking, 'Not this again,' " RLF senior Britta Glass said. "We had a lot of errors in that game. I don't know if it was nerves, us being in the section championship game for the first time, or what.
"But we talked things over between games about how this was our shot, to do what we've talked about all year. We're pretty competitive. We weren't going to lose again."
In the second title game, the Eagles jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first inning and never relinquished the lead, beating the Gators 4-3 to earn the program's first trip to the state tournament. "It's pretty special. We're making history in our school," Glass said.
The Eagles take a 22-4 record into the state tournament, where they'll meet Eden Valley-Watkins in an 11 a.m. quarterfinal game Thursday in North Mankato.
That section loss to Lake of the Woods didn't haunt the Eagles; it pushed them.
"That game made us realize that, even though our record was good, we had to work harder," RLF pitcher Rachel Berdahl said. "It was a painful loss right away. We thought we'd get a lot farther than we did. But it was a good lesson. We knew we had to have more focus and less errors."
This is a group of athletes who have grown accustomed to winning on the diamond.
Ben Hanson, in his ninth season as the Eagles' coach, registered his 100th career win during the section tournament. That includes 18 wins last season and 22 this year.
"We were around a .500 team most of those years," Hanson said. "But I've been coaching this group since they were 9- and 10-year-olds. It's been a lot of summer ball with them. We could see they were a pretty talented group.
"We were very competitive last year with good teams. I think they really believed they could do well. They've been waiting to break through like this."
Red Lake Falls takes a potent offense to the state tournament. The first seven hitters in the lineup all are batting better than .320, led by all-state shortstop Glass (.543, 39 runs) leading off, Brianna Breiland (.368), Molly Amberson (.362), Kayla Schmitz (.345, team-leading 38 RBI) and Hailey Keller (.345).
But the strength of the team is pitching and defense. Berdahl has a 2.62 earned run average, and the up-the-middle glove work of Glass and center fielder Olivia Knott anchors the defense.
"Rachel is a year older, a year better," Hanson said. "Her velocity is up and her location is better. Rachel doesn't get a ton of strikeouts. Probably the biggest thing for her has been her ability this year to make big pitches in pressure situations.
"And we go as our defense goes. Olivia is the best center fielder around. She covers a lot of ground and has a great arm. Britta is pretty tough in the field, too."
That pitching and defense has the Eagles going to state for the first time in school history. "It definitely has made up for the loss last year," Berdahl said.
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