Huskies exorcise field demons

It's understandable if the St. Anthony Village High School fastpitch softball team members got a weird little shudder when they arrived at Brooklyn Center High School on Friday for their Section 4AA playoff game against Visitation. It was on that same field that they saw their season unravel a year ago.

The Huskies' trip to BC went much better this time around as St. Anthony took care of Visitation 4-3 to clinch a spot in the Section 4AA championship game. St. Anthony will face St. Croix Lutheran on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Hamline University with a spot in the state tournament at stake. A year ago, St. Anthony was in the spot at the same field but saw its season come to an end with back-to-back losses. St. Anthony head coach Lamar Brendemuehl had a simple, although tongue-in-cheek explanation for his team's success at Brooklyn Center this time around.

"We switched dugouts," said Brendemuehl. "It was the curse of the dugouts."

St. Anthony senior third baseman Kenzie Hadler had a more plausible answer.

"We just came with a different attitude," said Hadler. "It's hard but we just got the troops together and said where we play isn't going to affect us."

Hadler and Mary-Clare Couillard provided some offensive firepower with home runs and St. Anthony manufactured the game-winning run in the bottom of the sixth inning after Visitation had tied the game in the top of the frame.

Senior catcher Sarah Birnbaum led off the sixth for the Huskies with a single and was replaced at first base by courtesy runner Emma Bradt. Emily Van Patter dropped down a sacrifice bunt and was safe at first on an error by Visitation second baseman Jocie Zenner, who dropped the throw while covering first base.

Bradt made a huge baserunning play by going from first to third on Van Patter's bunt.

Following a strikeout, Rebecca Snyder bunted back to Visitation pitcher Sarah Otto, whose throw to first was in time to get Snyder but allowed Bradt to dash home with the go-ahead run.

Becca Bates then pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning to secure the victory. Bates struck out five and got in trouble with just two pitches.

Visitation took the early lead when Andrea Feltz drilled the first pitch of the game over the fence in center field for a home run. Not exactly the kind of start St. Anthony was looking for.

"It happens," Bates said. "I didn't have to worry about throwing a no-hitter after that."

Brendemuehl said the play was consistent with his scouting report.

"They like to swing early in the count," said Brendemuehl. "(Feltz) was going on the first pitch. That probably got our attention."

St. Anthony trailed until the third when Couillard came up with a big hit. Sarah DeMars led off the inning with a single but with two outs courtesy runner Aiyana Ledwein was stuck at third. Couillard worked the count full before blasting a pitch to the opposite field for a two-run home run.

"MC's shot was huge," Brendemuehl said. "She had a really good at bat, fouled a couple off."

St. Anthony bumped its lead up to 3-1 when Hadler drove one deep to left field for a lead-off home run. Visitation tied it in the sixth on a two-run home run by Lauren Debertin.

The rally was probably something that wouldn't have happened early in the year. Brendemuehl listed three other games this season where the team trailed and was unable to mount a comeback. He also noted that St. Anthony's 5-4 victory over Blaine on May 14 might have been a turning point.

"The game that showed these guys that they come back was the Blaine game," said Brendemuehl. "We were down the whole game and they just kept chipping and chipping. We had been in that situation three times prior to that and didn't come back. That was a pretty big comeback win for us."

While the victory moved top-seeded St. Anthony into the section final, the loss forced No. 2 seed Visitation into the loser's bracket final against fourth-seeded St. Croix Lutheran, a 6-2 winner over third-seeded St. Paul Academy in the loser's bracket semifinals. St. Croix Lutheran carried the momentum from the SPA win over and eliminated Visitation 9-4.

So St. Anthony's opponent on Tuesday is St. Croix Lutheran. The Huskies have beaten the Crusaders twice this season, including 10-0 in five innings in the third round of the section playoffs on May 22. The other win was an 8-0, regular-season win on May 3.

Section 4AA fastpitch softball playoffs First round St. Anthony Village 30, Minneapolis Edison 4, 5 innings DeLaSalle 8, St. Paul Humboldt 4 St. Croix Lutheran 8, Breck 1 Concordia Academy 8, St. Paul Central 1 St. Paul Academy 11, St. Paul Harding 1, 5 innings Minnehaha Academy 13, St. Paul Highland Park 10 Holy Angels 3, Blake 2 Visitation 21, Minneapolis 1, 5 innings

Second round St. Anthony Village 10, DeLaSalle 4 St. Croix Lutheran 1, Concordia Academy 0, 9 innings St. Paul Academy 6, Minnehaha Academy 1 Visitation 5, Holy Angels 0

Third round St. Anthony Village 10, St. Croix Lutheran 0, 5 innings Visitation 4, St. Paul Academy 3

Fourth round St. Anthony Village 4, Visitation 3 St. Croix Lutheran 6, St. Paul Academy 2

Fifth round St. Croix Lutheran 9, Visitation 4

Championship round, May 29, 5 p.m. at Hamline University St. Anthony Village vs. St. Croix Lutheran (A second championship game, if necessary, is May 31 at 5 p.m. at Hamline)