NORTH MANKATO, MINN. – Talk about coming through in difficult situations.
Chanhassen was clinging to a 5-2 lead over Buffalo in the Class 4A championship game.
Storm pitcher Maddie Schwartz, its second pitcher of the day, was having trouble locating the strike zone and had allowed the Bison to load the bases with no outs in the top of the seventh inning.
Enter Marybeth Olson. The sparkplug shortstop, who is also a darn good pitcher, stepped into a near no-win situation and won.
Olson, who hadn’t pitched since a hand injury suffered in the middle of May, allowed a sacrifice fly — more on that later — and struck out the last two batters, preserving a 5-3 victory and Chanhassen’s first Class 4A state championship.
“I didn’t think I was going to pitch, but I live for these situations,” Olson said. “I love the pressure. I knew my teammates had my back behind me.”
Chanhassen, considered the strongest hitting team in the Class 4A field, took a quick 3-0 lead when catcher Jessica Bren clubbed a three-run homer in the bottom of the first inning.
It was her second home run of the tournament and gave her a state-leading 11 on the season.
Buffalo, resilient to the core, rallied for a pair of runs in the top of the fourth inning off Chanhassen starter Taylor Manno before a severe storm forced a four-hour rain delay.
When the game resumed, Chanhassen’s lineup had changed. Manno and third baseman Kali O’Keefe had to leave to satisfy other commitments.
Chanhassen turned to Schwartz, who pitched two innings, before Olson got the well-earned save.
For the first two games of the tournament, Buffalo had been the team of good fortune, winning two games on timely hitting, airtight defense and an occasional break.
They weren’t so fortunate in this game. The Bison committed three errors — their first three of the tournament — and had the bases loaded in the sixth and seventh innings but managed just one run.
“It is a game of inches and today, we didn’t make the plays we may have made in the other games,” said Buffalo coach Brad Zrust.
“We had a fly ball [in the seventh inning] that, if it gets by their right fielder, we score three runs. But that’s the way it goes sometimes. Our girls were resilient and never quit. We just didn’t get the hits when we needed them.
The fly ball Zrust referred to was a game-saver made by right fielder Emily Saurer on the first batter Olson faced. Saurer dived and grabbed the ball just before it hit the ground.
Buffalo managed to score one run on the play, but the damage could have been much worse.
“Wasn’t that great?” asked Chanhassen coach Joe Coenen. “I tell you, these girls always come up big. And that was huge.
‘‘I always say, it’s their team. I’m just the coach, and I’m lucky to be that. They make the plays and they deserve the credit.”