Softball: Little Falls season comes to close, but not without big turnaround

Little Falls threw everything it had at the top teams in Sub-Section 6AA East play.

And while the Flyers’ magical late run fell just short of advancing beyond the sub-section tournament, they did manage to take down two higher-seeded teams, and put a serious scare in top-seeded St. Cloud Cathedral.

Fifth-seeded Little Falls split a pair of elimination contests, May 22, upsetting second-seeded Milaca 2-1 before falling 6-5 to Cathedral later in the evening at Waite Park.

“We had a young squad this year and each game we improved on our skills and confidence in each other. We are very proud of the Flyers for always believing in the ‘process,’” Little Falls co-head coach Debra Yliniemi-Ahlin said.

“The Flyers enjoyed wearing the glass slipper – we surprised many teams late this May,” she said. “We are so proud of this team. They kept believing and played their hearts out until the final out.”

That would prove crucial in the first game of the night, as Little Falls broke a 1-1 tie in the top of the seventh inning against Milaca.

The Wolves were an out away from having a chance to go for a walk-off win.

Instead, sophomore Sarah Gold, who reached on a one-hit single, scored on a slow two-out roller by senior Tristen Zimmerman right in front of the plate.

Sophomore Linzee Gerads, who entered in relief in the sixth, then slammed the door, striking out a pair as she retired the Wolves in order in the bottom of the seventh.

The Flyers’ first run scored in the second inning when Gold singled home senior Alea Cekalla.

Senior Korlyna Keehr and Gold each had two hits, with junior Mikayla Gottwalt, sophomore Jordan Schuett, Zimmerman and Cekalla each recording one.

Cekalla pitched the first five innings, scattering seven hits and giving up just one run.

Gerads then came on for the sixth, stranding the bases loaded before pitching a scoreless seventh to earn the win.

“We as a coaching staff were very confident in our pitchers this year,” Yliniemi-Ahlin said. “With four straight games in a row, we knew we would have to watch the pitch count and be realistic about endurance in our pitching staff.

“Making mid-game changes against the opponent is also important to catch them by surprise on different pitchers’ delivery and speed,” she said. “We have the best of both worlds with a south paw (Cekalla) and a righty (Gerads).”

With the win, Little Falls moved on to play Cathedral, who had won the season’s previous three meetings, including the day before in the second round.

The game remained scoreless through three innings until both teams’ offenses heated up.

Cathedral scored a run in the bottom of the fourth, with the Flyers answering right back in the top of the fifth when Gottwalt was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.

The Crusaders appeared to gain control with three runs in the bottom of the inning, but the Flyers pulled right back within one in the top of the sixth as Gold and Schuett led off with back-to-back singles and came in to score.

Cathedral extended its lead to 6-3 with two runs in the bottom of the sixth, leaving Little Falls needing three runs to extend its season.

The Flyers would come up with two on a double by junior Katelynn Kanieski, but ended the game with the tying run at third base.

Keehr, Cekalla, Kanieski and Gold each had two hits, with senior Sierra Virnig and Schuett both adding one.

Cathedral would go on to reach the section finals, losing in a winner-take-all final game to Staples Motley.

The playoff run was a dramatic turnaround for the Flyers, who finished 5-13 after starting out the season 0-7, only scoring three runs in their first four games.

Seniors on this year’s roster included Brianna Opatz, Zimmerman, Abby Thoma, Briana Anderson, Cekalla, Keehr, Kalie Witucki, Haylee Hittesdorf and Virnig.