NORTH ST. PAUL — Rachel Hartwig is not most expressive player Bob Beedle has ever coached, but she was flashing a big smile on Thursday night.
The unflappable sophomore launched a three-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the eighth inning to break a scoreless tie as Stillwater edged Woodbury 3-0 in a Section 4AAA semifinal softball game at McKnight Fields.
“She’s a quiet kid, but she certainly had a big smile when she was coming around third,” Beedle said.
The blast — on the first pitch of the at bat — ended a stellar pitching duel between Stillwater’s Hannah Heacox and Brooke Pantila, who carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Carlie Hart spoiled the no-hit bid to lead off the eighth and Haley Balzart drew a walk to set the stage for Hartwig, who was moved into the No. 3 spot in the lineup for this game.
It was the sixth home run for Hartwig this season, but an equally remarkable achievement is that she has struck out just once all season.
“She’s hitting over .400 and that was a big one for her,” Beedle said.
The victory moves the top-seeded Ponies (18-3) into the winners bracket finals, where they will face third-seeded East Ridge on Wednesday. The loser of that game will face either second-seeded North St. Paul or fourth-seeded Hill-Murray in an elimination game on Wednesday. Stillwater defeated the Raptors 3-0 and 7-4 in a doubleheader earlier this season, but they will carry a five-game winning streak into next week’s meeting.
“I had them as the No. 2 seed in my rankings and we have a lot of respect for their team and coaching staff,” Beedle said of the Raptors.
The Ponies did take six walks from Pantila and put runners on second in the first and third innings and runners on first and second with no outs in the sixth. Stillwater struck out just four times, but the Royals also played stellar defense to help keep the shutout and no-hitter intact through seven innings.
“They play really good defense and they made the plays they needed to,” Beedle said. “We had a very good game defensively as well. Balzart made multiple diving plays at third base and Hart ran a ball down in the rigth-center alley where she made a great play.”
Catcher Morgan Conley also threw out a runner trying to steal second in one of the later innings.
Woodbury threatened in the sixth inning when Jordyn Yourczek was hit by a pitch and Pantila followed with a sharp single down the left-field line. A sacrifice bunt moved both runners up and Stillwater intentionally walked Madison Yochum to load the bases. Heacox, who allowed four hits and four walks, struck out a pinch hitter and induced an inning-ending groundout at third to end the threat.
“The games was played in front of a big crowd and it was exciting the entire game,” Beedle said. “Both teams had opportunities and we just seemed to come up with big plays when we needed them on defense. They played us real tough, but it was just a big momentum swing when we got out of the innings with runners on second and third with one out. It kind of lifted us up and sometimes that’s all it takes to get something generated.”
Woodbury 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 4 1
Stillwater 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 — 3 2 1
WP: Hannah Heacox 8-ip, 4-h, 0-r, 0-er, 4-bb, 9-so
LP: Brooke Pantila 7-ip, 2-h, 3-r, 3-er, 6-bb, 4-so
Leading hitters: St, Carlie Hart 1×2 (2 BB) and Rachel Hartwig 1×3 (HR, 3 RBI).
Contact Stuart Groskreutz at firstname.lastname@example.org
Roseville 8, St. Paul Como Park 1
Hill-Murray 13, St. Paul Johnson 2
Woodbury 8, Cretin-Derham Hall 4
Tartan 7, Mahtomedi 5
White Bear Lake 7, South St. Paul 0
Stillwater 4, Roseville 1
Woodbury 7, Hill-Murray 5
East Ridge 9, Tartan 7
North St. Paul 2, White Bear Lake 1 (10 inn.)
Stillwater 3, Woodbury 0 (8 inn.)
East Ridge 3, North St. Paul 1
Hill-Murray 10, Roseville 0
Hill-Murray 8, Woodbury 1
White Bear Lake over Tartan
North St. Paul 8, White Bear Lake 6