Taylor Bratten knelt on the infield dirt at Caswell Park in North Mankato and buried her crimson-red batting helmet into her palms after making Maple Grove's last out.
It personified a dejected message: close, but so far from the ultimate goal of a first state championship.
Maple Grove, the No. 1-ranked softball team in Class 3A heading into last week's tournament, fell 6-2 to Stillwater in the championship game. The Crimson (23-3) rolled into the finals without allowing a run in the first two games. That changed four batters into the bottom of the first inning against the Ponies when Natalie Gerber bled a single into right field scoring Carlie Hart, who led off with a double. Stillwater added another run later in the inning and tacked on two more in the second to take control.
It was an uncharacteristic game for senior pitcher Cayli Sadler, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year. Nearly untouchable during 7-0 and 3-0 victories in the tournament -- picking up her 500th career strikeout in the latter -- Sadler gave up eight hits and five earned runs against Stillwater. It was only her second loss of the season, the first a one- hitter against Park Center.
Orono, meanwhile, headed back up Hwy. 169 a happy bunch after securing the third-place trophy with a 5-1 victory over Mankato East. Samantha Hartmann recorded 19 strikeouts in the circle in the quarterfinals and semifinals. Hannah Bergh went seven strong innings to earn the bronze medal.
Bloomington Jefferson, after fighting the weather and graduation ceremonies, won back-to-back morning games on Day 2 of the tournament to wrap up the consolation bracket championship.
In Class 2A, Mound-Westonka rebounded from a crushing 4-3 walk-off loss in the quarterfinals to win the consolation bracket.Two-sport success
Richfield sophomore Obsa Ali boasted the top seed time in last Friday's Class 2A track and field meet in the 3,200-meter race, leaving some observers to wonder aloud where the young man came from.
Did he run cross-country? Not in 2011. Coaches lobbied unsuccessfully to get Ali on the team, but he was playing midfield and forward while captaining the Spartans' soccer team. A second-place finish in the 3,200 in a time of 9 minutes, 18.25 seconds has Ali planning for a much busier fall in 2012.
"I'm going to try and do both soccer and cross-country," said Ali, who also placed 12th in last Saturday's 1,600 at Hamline University. "I'm talking to the athletic director to see if I can. I definitely want to try cross-country now."
The boys' and girls' state golf tournaments wrap up Wednesday at three metro-area courses. All three classes teed off Tuesday morning after this edition went to print. Check www.mngolfhub.com for photos and updates.
Staff writer David La Vaque contributed to this notebook.