OAK PARK HEIGHTS — The game was delayed by an hour because of late-arriving umpires, but Stillwater struck quickly while scoring in each of the first three innings of Thursday’s 3-0 Suburban East Conference softball victory over Mounds View at Stillwater Area High School.
The victory kept Stillwater’s conference title hopes alive for a few hours, but those were dashed later Thursday evening after third-ranked Forest Lake (16-2 SEC, 17-2) completed a doubleheader sweep of Woodbury to finish one game ahead of the Ponies (15-3, 15-3), who are ranked seventh in the most recent state coaches poll.
The Ponies close out the regular season by hosting Totino-Grace in a nonconference game on Friday and then open play in the Section 4AAA tournament on Tuesday. Section seedings are slated to be announced on Friday.
“Finishing with a 16-2 record is pretty good. This is a tough conference and you have to tip your hat to Forest Lake if they finish with just two losses,” said Stillwater coach Bob Beedle, who split a doubleheader with the Rangers and Saturday after losing a game each to Park and Woodbury earlier this season. “They’re a strong program and certainly our first game (a 1-0 loss to Park) is one our whole team, in hindsight, would like to play again.”
The Ponies also finished second in the conference a year ago before catching fire and winning the program’s first state title since 1998. Stillwater has won four straight games and nine out of 10 entering its final regular season game.
“We’ve played the best we could down the stretch,” Beedle said. “Once we got outside and got comfortable, that speaks for itself. We’ve done what we can.”
Hannah Heacox has been nearly unhittable this week, despite pitching with a heavy heart after her father Greg Heacox passed away on Wednesday at the age of 62. In back-to-back games against the Mustangs, Heacox allowed just four hits and struck out 26 while not walking a batter in 14 innings, lowering her season ERA to just 0.25. She has also struck out 140 batters while issuing just 21 walks.
“We’re very confident with Heacox on the mound, we just have to find a way to score a few runs,” Beedle said. “If you’re only giving up a quarter of a run a game the other team needs 28 innings to score a run. All we have to do is catch the ball and get one.”
Stillwater managed just five hits in the game, all coming off of Carissa Struve in the first four innings when the Ponies stranded baserunners each time. Stillwater, which struck out just twice in the game, went down in order in the fifth and sixth after Struve was replaced by Becky Volkert. None of the three runs charged to Struve were earned.
“We pushed our runners around and took advantage of their errors,” Beedle said. “When you put the ball in play, good things can happen for you.”
The Mustangs (7-10, 7-10) were shut out for the second game in a row — which followed a stretch where they scored 55 runs in fourth straight victories over White Bear Lake and Roseville on Saturday and Monday.
Thursday’s hour-long delay to start the game wasn’t ideal, but the veteran Ponies dealt with it appropriately, Beedle suggested.
“I guess ideally you wouldn’t get ready to play and then wait an hour, but it was the same for both teams,” the coach said. “It does throw your rhythm off. We we did was kind of our warm-up drills and then went to the dugout and made sure we stayed focused on the game. We went back through our partial pre-game, bunting and hitting a second time, and then after that just had the kids try to stay loose by throwing in the outfield. It is one thing to have a 10- or 15-minute delay, but that was over an hour.”
Mounds View 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 3 6
Stillwater 1 1 1 0 0 0 x — 3 5 0
WP: Hannah Heacox 7-ip, 3-h, 0-r, 0-er, 0-bb, 11-so
LP: Carissa Struve 4-ip, 5-h, 3-r, 0-er, 1-bb, 2-so
Leading hitters: St, Carlie Hart 1×3, Rachel Hartwig 1×3, Sidnee Ronsberg 1×3, Natalie Gerber 1×3 and Allison Pasiuk 1×2 (RBI).