NORTH MANKATO, Minn. – Lakeville South coach Rob Laden relied on the odds to grab an edge in the Class 3A softball state championship game Friday at Caswell Park.
The coach called a suicide squeeze with the score tied in the bottom of the sixth inning knowing that if the bunt was laid down, it had a 74 percent chance of success. The numbers played in Laden's favor, and Lakeville South squeezed its way to the program's first state title in its first tournament appearance with a 3-2 victory over Maple Grove.
Mariah Uphoff pushed the bunt back to the pitcher, and teammate Michaela Thielen beat the throw home. Standout pitcher Kylie Stober finished the job in the top of the seventh inning by striking out Maple Grove star Sydney Smith to end the game with runners on second and third base.
"I said a little prayer during that at-bat. I was nervous. But I knew [Thielen] is a speed demon," Uphoff said. "I saw the bunt and thought they might get her, and then I turned around and saw the umpire [signal safe] and that was amazing."
The squeeze capped a two-run bottom of the sixth inning to pull the Cougars in front. Alicia Young drove in the tying run and contributed two of the Cougars' six hits. Maple Grove's only offense came in the third inning, when Jordan Mauch drove in two runs.
For the first time this season, Stober broke character. She replaced her usual glare with a look of elation after the final strikeout of her high school career, and the 11th of the game, to finish the championship run.
"I was too focused on getting to my teammates [to celebrate]," he said. "There are some things that are more important than some little thing I do. … But I'll continue to use [the glare]."
She'll use it next season as part of the Gophers pitching staff. Despite the Division I commitment, her ability as a high-level college pitcher was questioned before her senior season began. Laden told Stober it was her destiny to prove doubters wrong this season, but he didn't realize that would include a state championship.
Stober outdueled Smith, an LSU recruit, and worked out of a jam in the final inning. Laden and Stober are confident the effort cleared up any doubt.
"[Stober] is a great pitcher and she pitched a great game. She fooled me on the riseball," Smith said after giving up three runs, two earned, on six hits, two walks and six strikeouts in the circle. "I think it could have gone either way. I knew it was going to be a tough game."