As going-away presents go, this one was a doozy.
New Life Academy's Elena Linster had never hit a home run in her life. She couldn't a better time to end that drought. The eighth-grade right fielder hit not one but two home runs, both two-run blasts to left-center field, propelling the Eagles to their fifth Class 1A softball state championship with a 9-3 victory over Badger/Greenbush-Middle River.
What made Linster's homers even more special is that she and her family are moving to Fargo, N.D., next week after nine years in Woodbury.
Talk about going out with a bang.
"The first one was a little bit surprising. I was like, 'Great, I can leave now. I'm happy,' " Linster said. "The second one happened and I looked at [coach] Mick [Ramey]and he had this look of utter disbelief. I was like, 'I don't know what to tell you.' I swung at the pitch I wanted to swing at and a good thing happened."
Linster may have been the hitting star, but the Eagles' first state championship since winning the last of four in a row in 2011 was the result of years of growth and improvement from their senior trio of pitcher Valerie Hohol, catcher Malorie Giere and center fielder Sydney Steele. All three played for the Eagles in their last state championship season, albeit in lesser roles, and were the driving forces behind this title run.
"In the last couple of years, we've been back here but we've never really had that final game where we're really lights out," said Ramey, referring to back-to-back losses in the championship games of 2013 and 2014.
"This is the best three games we've had all season. This is really sweet for those seniors."
All three had a large impact on the outcome. Hohol pitched a complete game, striking out 10 without allowing a walk. Giere went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Steele was 3-for-4 and scored two runs.
"We were all so ready for a win," Steele said. "It means so much to finish our senior year off with a championship."