Coming in with a perfect 26-0 record, the Gator Softball team made its third straight trip to Caswell Park in North Mankato for the state softball tournament, June 15 and 16, following the program’s third consecutive Section 8A title. After three games, Gator team members left Caswell Park with another state plaque and tears in their eyes.
The second-seeded Gator Softball team opened the Class A state tournament versus the Section 2A Champion Springfield Tigers. Advancing to the semifinals, the Gators and the third-seeded and Section 6A Champion Browerville/Eagle Valley Tigers met in a battle of unbeaten teams. The Gators fell 8-4.
The next day, the Gators participated in the third-place game versus a familiar opponent, in the fourth-seeded and Section 3A Champion Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian Flying Dutchmen, a team the Gators had fallen to two previous times at the state tournament— both in the state championship game. This time around, the Gators fell 4-2 to finish fourth.
With the loss, the Gators finished the season 27-2. Despite having what Coach Christian called a tough ending to the season, he was proud of what his team accomplished this season. It set numerous program records, including most wins in a season and best winning percentage. Coach Christian called his team’s effort this season “outstanding,” given the pressure on them all year.
“We’re expected to do well and they did. I was pretty amazed at how, I thought, they really kept it in focus of just taking it one game at a time,” Coach Christian said. “… When we were piling up the wins in the regular season, it never seemed like they really panicked, and that’s tough to do. And you think about the sport of baseball (and) softball, to go undefeated for the stretch that we did was really remarkable.”
After graduating just one senior the previous two seasons—including the cancelled COVID season— the Gators lose five seniors, in Coach Christian’s daughter Mariah Christian, Erika Howell, Bella Monsrud, Ella Heggedal, and Emma Heggedal, making this end to the season a little tougher, Coach Christian said.
“I remember going to 10U tournaments, where I got a chance to just watch them play, so (they’re) definitely a special group,” Coach Christian said. “They all brought something a little different to the table.”
He talked about what each senior player brought to the team.
“I think the biggest thing that can be said is they’re better people than they are softball players,” Coach Christian said. “I mean, they’re really good softball players, so that goes to show you what type of people they are.”
Following the final loss, he did tell the girls something he has never said to any team.
“I said… I’m probably losing my favorite player of all time,” Coach Christian said, referring to his daughter Mariah. “It’s really neat having the opportunity to coach your own daughter…. Being a coach’s kid is not easy. There’s a lot of pressure on them, and they put a lot of pressure on themselves.”
Coach Christian also recognized the generosity of the team’s communities to make this state tournament experience a special one. He called the financial support and the physical support in Mankato “absolutely incredible.” Asked about the sea of green Gator shirts lining the outside of the fences in Mankato, Coach Christian said he was afraid to admit that he was almost getting used to this type of support.
“What other people were coming up and telling me from other communities is ‘How on earth you guys travel so well.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s Gator Nation,’” Coach Christian said. “I wish we could have brought home a championship for them. It wasn’t because lack of effort. It just didn’t work out. But having them there in the amount and really outdrawing teams that were an hour away, half an hour away, says a lot to our communities.”