This couldn't happen to Ryan Ness. Not with so much on the line.

The Elk River senior, considered by many to be his school's top male athlete this year -- two-time All-State soccer selection, captain of the soccer, basketball and tennis teams -- was struggling in the Class 2A tennis team championship finals.

Ness, who had not lost at No. 3 singles all season, had dropped the second set to Wayzata's Jason Lee and was trailing 2-0 in the third set.

"He picked up his play, and then I started to cramp up in the third set," Ness said. "I was getting frustrated."

Battling through his difficulty, Ness was admittedly relieved when he heard teammates explode when Josh Gearou and Josh Chuba won their matches, securing the championship for the undefeated Elks.

"That took a lot of the pressure off," said Ness, who rallied to defeat Lee 6-4 in the final set. "It was a great feeling to hear that. The cramps just went away."

North teams fall in finals

Taylor Bratten knelt on the infield dirt at Caswell Park in North Mankato and buried her crimson batting helmet in her palms after making Maple Grove's last out. One field over, at nearly the same time, St. Anthony Village players sat stunned in their dugout.

Both personified being close but so far from a first state championship.

Maple Grove, Class 3A's top-ranked softball team heading into last week's tournament, fell 6-2 to Stillwater in the championship game. A late rally by New Ulm secured its 9-5 victory over the Huskies in Class 2A.

The Crimson (23-3) didn't allow a run in reaching the finals. That changed in the bottom of the first inning against the Ponies. 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. After 7-0 and 3-0 victories in the first two games, including her 500th strikeout, Sadler gave up eight hits and five earned runs against Stillwater. It was just her second loss of the season, the first a one-hitter against Park Center.

In the Class 2A final, St. Anthony Village quickly fell behind 4-0 against New Ulm. But the team battled back to take a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning.

It stood until two outs in the top of the seventh, when the Eagles tied it and then scored four runs in the eighth to stun the Huskies (24-4).

Staff writer Brian Stensaas contributed to this report.