Gator Softball caps memorable season with fourth place finish

 

The Gator Softball team (27-2) poses with its state fourth place trophy following the team’s 4-2 loss to the Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian Flying Dutchmen in the Class A state third place game from Caswell Park in North Mankato on June 16. Pictured are (L-R): Front: Cassie Dahl, Tessany Blazek, Measha Troxel, Lauren Stenberg, Elizabeth Gust, Ada Lee, Jordan Lee, and Meagan Otto; Back: Head Coach Kent Christian, Sierra Westberg, Mariah Christian, Jacey Wojchowski, Kinsley Hanson, Theron Kuznia, Lauren Kvien, Erika Howell, Bella Monsrud, Asher Burslie, Ella Heggedal, Emma Heggedal, Audrey Gust, Assistant Coach Meghan Kvien, and Assistant Coach Dave Blazek. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Gator third baseman Lauren Kvien prepares to release her throw to first for the out during the top of the sixth inning of the Gator Softball team’s opening round state tournament win over the Springfield Tigers from Caswell Park in North Mankato. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Senior second baseman Erika Howell throws to first for the out in the top of the third inning of the Gator Softball team’s 6-3 win over the Springfield Tigers in the opening round of the Class A State Softball Tournament. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Gator Softball team members wave to the Springfield Tigers dugout in an expression of telling the the Tigers a “good game” after celebrating a 6-3 win on the field in the opening round of the Class A State Softball Tournament from Caswell Park in North Mankato on June 15. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Theron Kuznia (15) hugs teammate Kinsley Hanson after Hanson scored off a single and a couple errors during the Gators’ five-run fourth inning, helping her team to a 6-3 win over the Springfield Tigers in the opening round of the Minnesota Class A State Softball Tournament from Caswell Park in North Mankato on June 15. The Gators went on to finish fourth at state. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Gator senior Bella Monsrud makes contact for a leadoff single in the top of the third inning of the Gators’ 4-2 loss to the Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian Flying Dutchmen in the Class A state third place game from Caswell Park in North Mankato on June 16. (Photo by Ryan Bergeron)

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.”

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