By STUART GROSKREUTZ
NORTH ST. PAUL – The only team other than North St. Paul to represent Section 4AAA in the state tournament in the past eight years has been Stillwater when it advanced in 2008.
The Ponies dashed North St. Paul’s section title hopes on Tuesday, but still have a significant obstacle remaining while needing two victories over White Bear Lake on Wednesday to earn the state bid.
The fourth-seeded Bears blanked Stillwater 6-0 in the winners bracket finals on Tuesday at McKnight Fields before the Ponies (16-8) bounced back for an 8-5 elimination game victory over the Polars in the nightcap.
"We’re just happy to come back and play tomorrow," Stillwater coach Bob Beedle said. "It’s really hard when you lose that game and I was proud of our resiliency and ability to stay alive. Once you get beat, it’s hard to regroup emotionally and physically out there, but they were able to do that and give us a chance to play tomorrow."
Stillwater 8, North St. Paul 5
A six-run sixth inning helped the Ponies overcome a 5-2 deficit in their second game on Tuesday night. The Polars (19-3), ranked fourth in the final state coaches poll, avoided an early exit with a 6-1 elimination victory over Roseville earlier in the evening.
Stillwater hurdler Hannah Heacox was roughed up early for three runs in the first inning and one run each in the second and third to build a 5-2 lead.
Natalie Gerber drew a walk to spark the Ponies as they batted around in the sixth inning. Heacox, who threw four scoreless innings to close out the game, followed with a double to help her cause at the plate and Rachel Hartwig added an RBI single.
North St. Paul’s Tabitha Bayers struck out the next two batters before getting replaced by the original starter Carley Pickett to set up a lefty-vs.-lefty matchup with Dani Wigen, who promptly laced a two-run single down the right-field line to tie the game at 5-all.
The Ponies were not finished after a double by Carlie Hart and an error that allowed Haley Balzart’s fly ball to fall in right-center, allowing Wigen and Hart to score. Allison Eder-Zdechlik delivered an RBI single to extend Stillwater’s lead to 8-5.
"When you drop into the losers bracket and the other team just won their game it’s difficult to win," Beedle said. "It’s even more difficult when you’re playing one of the top teams in the state, but our kids hung in there. They were down 3-0 and then 5-2 and they just kept hanging around."
After falling behind early the Ponies scored twice in the second inning to close within 3-2. Rachel Hartwig singled to start the second and Sidnee Ronsberg continued her strong play with a two-run homer over the fence in right-center.
Ronsberg, who didn’t even join the varsity until the last few weeks of the season, has launched home runs at the sophomore, JV and varsity level this season.
"That was her second varsity home run," Beedle said. "She has progressed nicely and has contributed at every level she’s played at."
The Polars, however, responded with a run each in the second and third to regain a three-run lead. After Stillwater surged in front with six runs in the sixth, Heacox retired the side in order in the sixth and notched the last of her seven strikeouts to end the game after a runner reached on an error in the seventh.
Stillwater0 2 0 0 0 6 0-8101
N. St. Paul3 1 1 0 0 0 0-561
WP: Hannah Heacox 7-ip, 6-h, 5-r, 5-er, 5-bb, 7-so
LP: Carley Pickett
Leading hitters: St, Dani Wigen 2×3 (2 RBI), Rachel Hartwig 2×3 (2 runs, RBI), Sidnee Ronsberg 1×4 (HR, 2 RBI), Hannah Heacox 1×4 (2B), Natalie Gerber 2×3 (RBI), Allison Eder-Zdechlik 1×3 (RBI), Haley Balzart 1×3 and Carlie Hart 1×4; NSP, Jamie Fleischacker 2×4 and Jamie Rubbelke 2×4.
White Bear Lake 6, Stillwater 0
Nicole Weigman extended her shutout streak against the Ponies to 14 innings while throwing a complete game three-hitter to lift the Bears in the winners bracket finals on Tuesday.
Weigman also blanked the Ponies in a 4-0 victory on May 5 and also pitched well in an eventual 4-2 loss to Stillwater in 12 innings on April 20.
"She has shut us down two games in a row," Beedle said. "The last time I checked, it’s hard to win with zero. We have to find a way to get some runs."
Weigman allowed two walks and finished with just three strikeouts, although she was in control throughout.
"We just didn’t execute," Beedle said. "We were swinging at her pitches. She pitches on the edge of the strike zone and if you’re not patient she’s going to get you out. Our pitch selection will have to change."
The Ponies dropped a fly ball with two outs in the first inning and Molly Sager made them pay while launching a three-run homer to provide an early lead for the Bears.
"When you drop a fly ball that’s uncharacteristic of our team," Beedle said. "I don’t know if it was jitters, but you’re not going to get away with that against one of the better teams in the section."
After giving up a lead-off walk in the second, starting pitcher Rachel Rhode was replaced by Rachel Hartwig, who gave up consecutive singles as the Bears built a 5-0 lead.
Hartwig followed with four scoreless innings before Danielle Renner added a solo homer for the Bears in the seventh.
"She gave up a solo homer, but other than that threw the ball real well," Beedle said.
WB Lake3 2 0 0 0 0 1-672
Stillwater0 0 0 0 0 0 0-033
WP: Nicole Weigman 7-ip, 3-h, 0-r, 0-er, 2-bb, 3-so
LP: Rachel Rhode 1-ip, 2-h, 4-r, 1-er, 1-bb, 0-so
Leading hitters: St, Haley Balzart 2×2 and Carlie Hart 1×3; WBL, Abby Bircher 2×4, Danielle Renner 2×4 (HR), Molly Sager 1×4 (HR).
Tartan 5, East Ridge 3
Stillwater 4, South St. Paul 3
Woodbury 3, Mahtomedi 1 (8)
Roseville 3, White Bear Lake 2 (9)
Hill-Murray 2, Tartan 1 (10)
Stillwater 10, North St. Paul 6
Mounds View 7, Woodbury 2
Roseville 5, Cretin-Derham Hall 3
At Midway Stadium
#1 Hill-Murray vs. #5 Stillwater, 5 p.m.
#3 Mounds View vs. #7 Roseville, 7:30 p.m.
The semifinal losers will play an elimination game on Saturday at 4 p.m., followed by the winners bracket finals at 7 p.m. The losers bracket finals are set for Monday at 2:30 p.m., with the section championship game slated for Tuesday at 7 p.m. If necessary, a second championship game would be held on June 6 at 2:30 p.m.