An exceptional White Bear Lake softball season ended with a bit of a clunker on Wednesday evening.
After a strong showing in 5-3 loss to the state’s top team, Stillwater, the Bears squandered numerous opportunities and lost 6-5 in eight innings to Woodbury, a 10-14 team they had beaten twice before.
The Bears, in their first winning season since 2012, finished 17-7 with a second-place conference finish and third-place Section 4AAAA finish after the two games at McKnight Field in North St. Paul.
Against top-ranked Stillwater (22-1) and its brilliant 6-foot-1 pitcher Allison Benning, the Bears got solo home runs from Mik Stowe (on the first pitch of the game) and Maddie Petersen, and an RBI single from Stowe. Benning has most of Stillwater’s wins, an ERA around 1.00, and had allowed just one homer all season. The Bears got three runs off her in five innings. Sierra Murphy finished with two scoreless frames.
Petersen, the Bears starting pitcher, was pulled after giving up a single and two walks to load the bases in the first inning. Chloe Barber came in. She struck out three straight batters, but not before wild-pitching a run home.
Barber pitched well (seven innings, four runs) except in the fourth when the Ponies ripped five straight hits and got three runs, with an RBI double by Cat Smetana and two-run single by Taylor Gray. It would have been worse but the Bears threw out two baserunners that inning.
Against Woodbury, the Bears sprayed out 14 hits — including two more solo homers by Jordyn Meyer and Stowe — against Nicole Stickels (who lost to the Bears and Petersen 1-0 the last time they met). However, the Bears left 12 runners on base and had two others thrown out on base-running gambles. Stickels never had a 1-2-3 inning but kept pitching out of trouble by retiring the Bears on ground balls and pop-ups. And defensively, Bears’ walks and errors led to Woodbury’s last five runs.
Woodbury’s Riley Rosenthal homered on the first pitch of the game against Petersen, who was relieved in the third inning by Barber with the score 3-0. Barber threw the last six innings, striking out nine and allowing three runs.
The Bears, down 4-2 in the last of seventh, got a run on hits by Olsen and Heidi Barber and Stickels’ throwing error, which left runners at second and third and the score 4-3. Then, after an intentional walk, they had bases loaded with nobody out. The golden opportunity was missed, though. Petersen struck out on a wild pitch that let Heidi Barber score from third, but the Bears tried to score another run on the play and got thrown out at home. Another strikeout ended the inning 4-4.
In the eighth, a two-out error, then a walk, loaded the bases for Woodbury, and Stickels provided her own winning runs with a two-run single.
In the bottom half, she got the first two batters out. The Bears were not quite done. Stowe slammed a home run just over the center field fence, and Annika Olsen and Heidi Barber hit line-drive singles. That brought Chloe Barber to the plate, the best possible scenario for the Bears as she is one of the metro area’s most dangerous hitters. But Chloe Barber got behind 1-2, then hit a dribbler down the first base line and Stickels threw her out on a close play.