Hannah Kangas came up with two big hits, and Nikki Anderson was magical as the Brainerd Warriors salvaged a split to stay alive in Section 8-3A action Monday afternoon.
After losing to No. 5-seeded Elk River 5-0, and having their 14-game winning streak snapped, the top-seeded Warriors came back strong with an 11-3 victory over No. 7 Rocori and advanced in the losers’ bracket to a rematch with Elk River on Wednesday.
Winner of the Brainerd/Elk River game Wednesday will then play No. 3 Big Lake, which is 2-0 in the section tournament.
Brainerd 11, Rocori 3
With Brainerd trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the first, Kangas hit a one-out triple that scored Chelsie Manton and Anderson to give the Warriors a 3-2 lead.
“It felt good to come through. The girls aren’t ready to be done,” Kangas said. “We want a trip to the state tournament and we want to do some damage. I just tried to carry the approach of not being done through to the plate.”
In the fourth, Kangas came to the plate with the bases loaded, two out, and smashed an inside the park home run to left-center to give Brainerd a 10-2 lead.
After taking the loss in the first game, Anderson came back with a brilliant performance against Rocori, giving up just two runs on three hits, while striking out 14.
Warriors coach Mike Zauhar had confidence in giving the ball to Anderson in the second game.
“She looked like she was struggling a bit, but Nikki is a gamer,” Zauhar said. “We are going as far as she takes us. She is our horse and we will ride with her to the end. The last three years, without Nikki Anderson you don’t have 60 wins. She is a very important part of our ballclub.”
Zauhar wanted to give the offense a spark so he had the first two batters, Bailey O’Hotto and Manton bunt. Both were successful and it led the way to a five-run inning, capped by Kangas’ triple.
“We started out with two bunts and our game plan was to get them going because they were a bit down after playing Elk River,” Zauhar said of his team. “We hit some rocket shots in the first game, and I think the first inning of the second game got us going and got us in the right frame of mind.”
Leading 5-3, the Warriors broke the game open in the fourth. With one out, Kaitlyn Bible hit a perfectly placed shot to deep right-center and she came around to score on an inside the park home run.
O’Hotto, who finished the day 4-8, then got an infield hit . Nikki DeChaine followed with a hit, and Anderson walked to load the bases. Kangas answered the call with her inside the park homer and Brainerd led 10-3 and didn’t look back.
“Bible and Kangas have been battling all year and playing hard for us, and good for them for coming through,” Zauhar said. “It seems that with this team someone different picks us up each game and Bible and Kangas did that today.”
Anderson then shut Rocori down with six strikeouts in the last three innings.
Elk River 5, Warriors 0
The Warriors hit some balls hard but just could not come up with a big hit.
Leading by a 1-0 score in the sixth, Elk River punched four insurance runs across without getting a hit. An error and wild pitch were the Warriors’ undoing in the four-run sixth. The Warriors got just one hit in the last two innings.
Brainerd now prepares for a rematch with Elk River on Wednesday.
“It was good to get that game out of the way,” Kangas said of the loss to the Elks. “Now we have seen them and we know what we need to do to win. We are going to come back stronger then ever.”
“We are looking forward to Wednesday and getting back to our home field,” Zauhar said. “I would hate to have to play us. We are a good team and we have come through the back door before.”
Elk River 5 3 0
Brainerd 0 6 1
WP: Anna Pipenhagen. LP: Nikki Anderson.
Rocori 3 3 2
Brainerd 11 13 2
WP: Nikki Anderson. LP: Kassidy Klaphake. 3B: B-Hannah Kangas, Sara Wennerstrand. HR: B-Kangas, Kaitlyn Bible.