Two of the best athletes in Minnesota adapted sports led their teams to state softball championships.
Senior Grayson Nicolay fueled Dakota United’s first Physically Impaired Division title since 2008 while junior Anthony Bengtson swung a hot bat for North Suburban, first-time champs in the Cognitively Impaired Division. Both players shined Saturday at Coon Rapids High School.
Nicolay, the all-time leading scorer in adapted floor hockey, took a big role on offense for the Hawks softball team, too. He hit a grand slam in the second inning and finished with four RBI and three runs in a 13-7 victory against Rochester.
“He loves the big moment — bases loaded in the championship game,” said senior pitcher Nick Kuefler, who added four RBI and two runs. “That’s his time.”
Bengtson went 5-for-5, tallying a first-inning home run and contributing four RBI and three runs. The Cougars won a slugfest, edging Osseo 17-15.
Teammates Kevin Beaupre (four RBI, three runs) and Josh Hamann (two RBI, four runs) added to the offensive output.
North Suburban (12-4) assistant coach Erik Aus, who directed the Centennial boys’ hockey team to the 2004 Class 2A state championship, said of Bengston, “I believe he’s the best athlete in the state in the CI Division.”
The dynamic shortstops helped their teams overcome recent title game frustration. Nicolay and Dakota United (11-1) won the floor hockey state championship in March. But in softball, second-place finishes in 2013 and 2014 left bad feelings.
Bengtson and North Suburban got a measure of revenge for a loss in the adapted soccer title game last fall to Park Center, whose players compete in the spring as Osseo.
“It felt amazing in hockey, so I also wanted to win it in softball,” Nicolay said. “We play with the same people in each sport, so we’re a family and we wanted to go out on top.”
Grayson gave the Hawks — made up of players from Apple Valley, Eastview, Rosemount, Eagan, Hastings, Henry Sibley, Simley and South St. Paul — an 8-2 lead in the second inning with his blast off the top of the retracted fieldhouse bleachers for a grand slam.
“It just kept on bouncing down each stair like a Slinky,” Grayson said. “So I said, ‘OK, I’m going to keep on running.’ ”
Bengtson sweated as Osseo scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh and loaded the bases before North Suburban could get the final out.
“Yeah, I got a little nervous,” Bengtson said. “But it was exciting.”
Both teams overcame adversity to earn their championships.
Dakota United rallied from a 4-0 deficit after three innings for a 5-4 semifinal victory against defending champion Anoka-Hennepin.
North Suburban, made up of players from Centennial and Spring Lake Park, was a No. 3 seed.
The Cougars also enjoyed semifinal success against Anoka-Hennepin, winning 15-3 in five innings a few weeks after getting clobbered 18-8 by the same Mustangs.