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State prep softball preview: No. 1-ranked Cherry-Cotton is on a record-setting season heading into state tournament.

Despite making several visits to doctors and undergoing various imaging scans over a two-year period, Sara Sauter continued to feel a sharp pain in her wrist whenever throwing a riseball or a screwball.

Despite making several visits to doctors and undergoing various imaging scans over a two-year period, Sara Sauter continued to feel a sharp pain in her wrist whenever throwing a riseball or a screwball.

And to a softball pitcher, there are few places less convenient to have an injury.

"It was to the point where I'd think, 'I don't want to throw that pitch anymore,'" said the Cherry junior, who injured the wrist playing volleyball in ninth grade.

Finally, Sauter received good news in the form of bad news last January: Exploratory surgery showed a quarter-inch cartilage tear on the pinky side of her right wrist. Further surgery on Feb. 1 by Dr. Samuel Hoxie of SMDC cleared up the problem.

"Once we found out there was something wrong, we wanted to get it fixed right away," said her father, Scott Sauter, an assistant on the Cherry-Cotton softball team. "Everything's back to

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100 percent now."

That's a bonus for No. 1-ranked Cherry-Cotton (23-2), which meets Badger-Greenbush-Middle River (22-3) at 1 p.m. Thursday in a Class A quarterfinal of the Minnesota high school state tournament at Caswell Park in North Mankato. The winner advances to play either New Life Academy or Wabasso at 7 p.m.

Sauter's wrist was in a cast for eight weeks -- until about a week before the season opener -- and she didn't pitch until three-fourths through the regular season.

"When she got the cast off, I was concerned she would try and overdo it and reinjure something else," head coach Darrell Bjerklie said. "So we eased her into it, even though she didn't like it."

Fellow pitchers Shaina Novak and DeAnn Bjerklie and big hitters Tanner Ersbo and Macey Etter helped keep the Tigers rolling to a record-setting season, while Sauter played shortstop.

"When I got the cast off, I thought in a couple weeks I'd be ready to go," she said. "It ended up being more than that and I started to get nervous, thinking, 'Oh no, I'm not going to be able to pitch for playoffs.' But everything worked out great."

Her dad could tell she was anxious to pitch again.

"She was really itching to get back on the mound," he said. "We figured we'd be patient with it and she'd be ready by the time the playoffs came around."

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Sauter didn't throw a full seven innings until a section final four win over Mesabi East last week. Exhausted after such a long layoff, she threw only the first three innings in the final against Silver Bay as the Tigers won 5-2 for their first section title.

"In the final four, she did a terrific job," coach Bjerklie said. "She brought us through that final four."

The championship round previously had haunted the Tigers, who twice lost two games in the finals of the double-elimination tournament and were 0-for-6 in their history.

"Of course it's going to hurt your confidence when you go into a game like that thinking, 'We're going to beat them because we beat them a couple days ago,' then you lose twice badly," Sara Sauter said. "It does wreck your confidence, but it makes you want to win that much more, too."

Bjerklie isn't making any predictions this week, but at least he knows how his players will respond in a big game or tense situation.

"It's a big thing for our communities because now they believe they can do it," he said. "I told the girls (after the section final), 'You made history. What you just did will last forever.'

"The pleasant thing for me was they said, 'Our job's not done.' I like that."

And with Sauter back healthy, that job may not be completed until Friday afternoon's championship game.

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"It feels like I haven't ever pitched this well," Sauter said. "I thought I'd be to the point where I was just as good as last year ... but I'm better than I used to be."

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