By STUART GROSKREUTZ – Stillwater Gazette
There are teams that have been more frequent visitors to the softball state tournament than Stillwater, but none that have been more successful once there than the Ponies, who matched Mankato East with a fourth state championship – the most among teams competing in the large-school class.
East, which Stillwater defeated in the semifinals on Thursday, has advanced to state 16 times since the inaugural state tourney in 1977. The Ponies have won four championships in eight trips to state. Austin and Burnsville have each claimed three state titles while Rosemount, North St. Paul and Minnetonka have each won twice. Burnsville with six state appearances is the only program with more than one title that can match Stillwater’s 50-percent success rate in the tournament.
Stillwater’s previous seven state appearances came in 1986, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2003 and 2008, with state titles captured under coach Mike Pavlovich in 1995, 1996 and 1998.
"I think Stillwater softball history has been rich and, clearly there was a little bit of a dry spell, but we think that we have revived it," said coach Bob Beedle, who brought the Ponies to state in 2008. "I am involved in the summer softball association and we are in good shape from the bottom to the top of it."
Icing on the cake
Celebrating a birthday has been a precursor to larger celebrations for the Stillwater softball team the past few weeks. Freshman first baseman Rachel Hartwig celebrated her birthday on Friday when the Ponies went on to unwrap a state championship.
Coach Beedle also celebrated a birthday – his 61st – on May 30, which was the same day Stillwater knocked off White Bear Lake in consecutive games to win the Section 4AAA championship.
"We’ve been able to have a couple nice presents and share the celebration with some pretty important events, two championships," Beedle said.
It takes a village
She wasn’t listed on the program for Stillwater, but former Erika Fisher provided valuable service to the Ponies in North Mankato. Fisher, a match teacher at Oak-Land Junior High who previously coached for the Ponies under Pavlovich, joined the team as a chaperone and took care of many of the administrative details to allow Beedle and the others to focus on coaching and playing.
Fisher ran errands, set up reservations and made sure the team was well stocked with water and other supplies – not to mention keeping tabs on other games to keep the Ponies on schedule as much as possible, especially after the start of the tournament was delayed by three hours because of rain.
"A person like that is not that visible to the average fan, but she was just an intricate part of our success down there," Beedle said. "You need all that stuff to fall into place and be calming rather than herky-jerky. You try to stop from adding that travel pressure."
Beedle is also appreciative of Bill Mahre and his daughter Julie Mahre, who played at White Bear Lake for Beedle when the Bears qualified for state in 2002 becoming a four-time All-MIAC performer at Gustavus.
"The two of them have done behind the scenes scouting for us the last three or four years," Beedle said. "There’s a lot of hands in the mixture there to get you down the road and lots of people that have contributed along the way. This is the culmination of a lot of people putting forth a lot of effort and time and dedication."
Prior to last season when Hastings defeated fellow Suburban East Conference team Forest Lake in the finals, it had been 13 years (Stillwater in 1998) since a current SEC team captured the state title. The fact that Stillwater lost seven league games this season and still tied for second place in the standings before making a postseason run to the state championship shows both the depth and quality of the conference.
"We hear a lot about the western and northern suburbs and their strength of their conferences, but we also had the runner-ups and state champions last year so I’ll let the results speak for themselves," Beedle said. "We have a very tough conference top to bottom."
Three Ponies were selected to the All-Tournament Team following Friday’s victory in the state championship game, including Allison Eder-Zdechlik, Hannah Heacox and Natalie Gerber.
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