Last-inning rally cut short as Osakis drops second straight
With the tying run on base, Grace Oeltjen lined out to the Albany shortstop to halt Osakis' comeback effort against one of the Section 6AA hopefuls.
When Osakis freshman Maggie Dirkes came up to bat with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, she put a charge into a deep drive near the right-centerfield fence. With winds gusting around 20 miles per hour, the ball died in the air.
The big pop fly scored a run for the Silverstreaks, but it would be the last of the afternoon. Osakis (9-3) fell to Section 6AA rival Albany (11-2) 5-3.
"I thought the ball had a chance to go out off the bat," Osakis head coach John Stigman said. "We haven't faced the pitching we've faced the past two days. It's been a little bit of an adjustment. Our kids can swing the bat, but it's about getting used to that. We're going to see a lot of really good pitching coming up here down the stretch."
All of Osakis' three runs came in the bottom of the seventh inning. Senior Tia Dykema led off the inning with a walk before senior Laynee Hartshorn, the cleanup hitter, belted a home run over the left field wall.
Hayleigh Niehoff, Shelbe Schmidt and Lexi Klimek followed Hartshorn's blast with three straight singles to load the bases with no outs. After Dirkes' sacrifice fly and a Kali Schoeck sacrifice bunt, Oeltjen's sharp line drive was speared by the Albany shortstop to end the game.
Stigman has two pitchers he feels confident in throwing against the top teams in the section. Niehoff threw all seven innings and allowed four earned runs against one of the top 6AA lineups. She struck out two batters and got out of jams in the late innings to keep the deficit to a minimum.
"We feel comfortable with both of our pitchers going against lineups like this," Stigman said. "Hayleigh and Shelbe have thrown really well for us all year. They're both veterans who have been with us for a couple of years. It's not a bad situation for them because they're used to it."
Albany scored its first run of the game on a bases-loaded single with one out in the top of the third. Niehoff got out of danger when the next batter lined out to Dykema, who proceeded to double up the runner at first base.
Albany added two more in the top of the fifth inning to make it 3-0. Osakis had a chance to cut into the deficit in the bottom of the six after Dirkes reached with a leadoff single, but the Silverstreaks couldn't get the big hit they needed until the seventh inning. Albany's two insurance runs in the top of the seventh proved to be crucial in the 5-3 win.
"We played a good game defensively today," Stigman said. "We didn't play as well (Thursday) against Pierz. It wasn't bad, but we didn't play as well. Today was a good response. It's going to come down to defense and pitching. Pitching in softball is everything. We played Pierz yesterday, and they have two good pitchers. Albany had a good girl throwing today, and I know Annandale has a good pitcher too."
Osakis' home stretch of the season is loaded with teams like Pierz, Albany, Annandale and rematch with Long Prairie-Grey Eagle. The Silverstreaks stopped the first game of the season against the Thunder 10-9 and are looking forward to seeing another good team at the back end of their schedule.
"I think it's a good thing to have all these games at the end," Stigman said. "We've had years where we have all of these tough teams right out of the gate and get worse competition late. Then you have to go into the playoffs playing against those better teams again. We want to play the teams that we're going to need to beat later on so we can feel more prepared in that section tournament."