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Prep softball: Proctor runs out of magic in championship game

The Rails had chances, but couldn't get a key hit when they needed it against Chatfield.

Softball action.
Proctor’s Maddy Walsh throws a pitch during the Thursday, May 26, 2022, game against Rush City.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune / File
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NORTH MANKATO, Minn. — Proctor followed the script early in the Minnesota Class A championship game against Chatfield Friday at Caswell Park.

In each of their first two state tournament games, the Rails have fallen behind early and clawed their way back into the game and won in walk-off fashion, including a 12-inning thriller Thursday against Maple Lake in the semifinal.

Pitcher Maddy Walsh allowed three runs in the first inning, but the Rails answered with two in the bottom half of the inning.

There wouldn’t be any late-game heroics Friday. The Rails lost 3-2 and settled for a runner-up finish in their first state tournament since 2006.

Walsh — who pitched 19 innings Saturday — allowed just two hits and struck out eight, but the Rails bats couldn’t get another run across the plate.

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“It was a tough start for her, she was probably a little too amped up,” Proctor coach Bud Joyce said. “They’re coming off the game yesterday, it was a combination of being extremely tired and sore. She was a little wild and they were disciplined. They were able to put the ball in play, we made a mistake and it cost us some runs. We had plenty of time to come back, but both pitchers settled in and kept each other off the scoreboard.”

The third-seeded Gophers had already made history on Thursday when they beat Mounds Park Academy 8-5 in the quarterfinal for the program's first state tournament victory that wasn't in the consolation bracket. But pitcher Claire Springer said the Gophers weren't satisfied with just that. They wanted that first-place plaque.

Before the game, they looked like a team on a mission with a dugout full of determined faces, and Chatfield coach Jerry Chase could feel the Gophers were up to the task.

"They were confident," Chase said. "Confident to the point where they tried not to get too over their heads. Sometimes, you get nervous when you play. You can't be nervous when you play, especially in this game."

That confidence translated to the top of the first inning when the Gophers took advantage of the erratic control of Walsh, drawing a walk and taking a hit by pitch to load the bases with two down. Sydney Allen then drew the second walk of the inning to push across the first run of the game.

Two more runs came across after an infield error off the bat of Devann Clemens. When it was all said and done, the Gophers (28-2) scored three runs on just one hit before Springer even stepped in the circle.

Yet, even with the lead, Springer — understandably — still had to settle her nerves down against a talented Proctor lineup that averaged over seven runs per game.

The top-seeded Rails (24-2) flexed their muscle with a double and a single to start it out, before scoring a pair of runs on three hits to cut the lead to 3-2.

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Yet, that's all the Rails would be able to tally against the talented Springer.

The junior only got better as the game wore on with her seventh-inning heater being faster than it was in the first inning.

“We had plenty of chances, we just didn’t get a key hit,” Joyce said. “You’ve got to tip your hat to the other team, their pitcher. They did great.”

Springer's off-speed was great, as her change-up was on for the second consecutive game.

For Springer, it was that pitch which was the equalizer against a potent Proctor offense and helped her scatter eight hits — seven singles.

"It was hard because you had to throw every single one a change-up at some point," Chase said. "In that back of that lineup, you had to just pick and choose and sometimes you had to throw them back-to-back. We threw a lot of offspeed pitches. Much more than we normally call."

The Gophers defense picked her up too, especially the shortstop Zimmerman. Her biggest play came in the sixth when she corralled the ricochet off of Springer, before throwing a strike to first to beat the runner by a step and a half, while stranding the tying run at third base.

But for every zero Springer put on the board, Walsh matched it.

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Outside of the first inning, the hard-throwing right-hander was stellar. She retired every Chatfield hitter from the fifth inning on and allowed just two hits with eight strikeouts in seven innings.

"She was fast," Springer said. "Nothing we hadn't seen before, but she was just like the Cannon Falls pitcher (Abby Breuer). She had great spin on it with speed. It was tough to hit."

Despite the loss, Joyce was happy with his team and how far the Rails (24-2) made it this season.

“It’s disappointing, but three months ago if I had told Baylie (Peterson) or Payton (Rodberg) or any of them that three months later we’d be standing here today, they all would say ‘No,’” Joyce said. “It was a tough start due to weather, we had our own issues internally, but we overcame them to be where we’re at today. Only one team is better than that … We can’t look down on ourselves for what happened today. We had a great run and they should be as proud of it as I am.”

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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