Greenway’s Abby Gustason hit a pair of doubles and had three RBIs to lead Greenway to a 7-4 victory over Proctor in the Section 7AA championship at Braun Park in Cloquet.
Gustason’s two-RBI double in the bottom of the first inning started a four-run rally to give the Raiders a 4-0 lead. Greenway rallied from a four-run deficit during the teams’ meeting earlier in the season to beat the Rails 7-5 April 28.
“We knew coming in Proctor was a really tough team,” Gustason said. “We knew right off the bat we had to get runs, runs, runs to stay ahead ... When I came up to the plate, I was just swinging for the moon, actually, like I needed to get a hit one way or another.”
Gustason hit sophomore Maddie Walsh’s pitch over the centerfielder’s head, driving in Lexi Hammer and Miranda Gernander.
Despite the fact that Gustason has been struggling at the plate lately, assistant coach Mike Vekich said he wasn’t surprised by her play.
“I give her all the credit in the world,” Vekich said. “She comes up clutch in big moments. She’s done it year after year, game after game and she’s stayed the course and she produces at big times, so I’m not surprised it was her doing it again.”
Greenway added two more runs in the fifth inning off RBI hits by Hannah Anderson and Ava Johnson.
Gernander was solid in the circle for Greenway, allowing just one Proctor baserunner over the first five innings. In the sixth inning, the sophomore ran into trouble, allowing five singles and four runs to cut the Greenway lead to 6-4 headed to the bottom of the sixth. Gernander’s struggles forced two visits to the mound by Vekich to calm his pitcher down.
“Mike came out and talked to me a little bit which made me feel a little bit better,” Gernander said. “He just told me that he knows I can do it and even if I mess up, my defense has my back, always.”
Gustason, the only player from either team with multiple RBIs, hit her second RBI double of the day in the sixth to give Greenway an insurance run.
After the rocky start, Walsh pitched well for Proctor and held the Greenway hitters in check for much of her final five innings, but that wasn’t surprising to Rails coach Bud Joyce.
“Maddie’s tough as nails, she doesn’t have a part of her that’s going to give in — she’ll fight to the last inning like what happened today,” Joyce said. “I didn’t doubt that she’d find it. Sometimes that happens to a pitcher...there’s times you go through a tough inning and you just have to figure it out. Eventually she did and we got back in the game.”
Joyce was happy with the way his team battled back late, something they had to do against Moose Lake-Willow River in the semifinals as well.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t put any pressure on them outside of that one inning,” Joyce said. “But their pitcher played well and they played great defense, which is pretty much a staple for them up the middle. We just didn’t hit the ball like we hope to do and that was probably the difference in the game.”
Proctor (24-3) fell just short of its goal making it to the state tournament, but will return all but two players in 2022.
Greenway (25-0) will begin the state tournament Tuesday, June 15, and Vekich said he believes the Raiders will “be ready” after coming through one of the best sections in the state.
After years of falling short, Gustason believes Greenway has a contender headed the the Class AA tournament.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment since eighth grade,” she said. “We always made it to the first round and choked, but this year, we knew we had a special team. We just kept persevering through every game. If someone was doing bad, we’d pick them up and I think we have one of the strongest teams, I would think, in the state.”
Greenway 7, Proctor 4
WP: Miranda Gernander 7IP, 4R, 6H, 7K. LP: Madison Walsh 6IP, 7R, 5K. G: Abby Gustason 3x3, 2 2B, 3RBI R; Jadin Saville 1x2, RBI. P: Walsh 1x3, RBI, R; McKenzie Gunderson 1x3, RBI.