They were good to the last out.
Unfortunately for the top-seeded Brainerd Warriors, they weren’t good enough to get past fifth-seeded Elk River in Wednesday’s losers’ bracket game of the Section 8-3A tournament at Adamson Field.
The Elks scored twice in the fourth inning and added the game-winner in the fifth to knock off the Warriors (20-3) for the second time in the playoffs and eliminate the home team with a 3-2 victory.
Brainerd made it interesting until the final out.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, senior Chelsie Manton fell behind 1-2. A string of foul balls preceded ball two. Manton fouled off two more pitches before ball three. Another pitch fouled off came before Manton battled for a walk.
“I was just thinking I had to put everything out there that I could,” said Manton. “I went up there thinking that could be my last at bat of my senior year and my time here as a Warrior.
“I wasn’t thinking about getting a huge hit. I was just thinking about getting contact with the ball and after a few swings I noticed I was on it. I was looking for her rise ball, but she never gave it. Luckily I found a way to get on base.”
Manton stole second to get into scoring position for senior catcher Nikki DeChaine, who fell behind 0-2 before lacing a double to score Manton. DeChaine moved to third on the throw to home plate.
“I know Nikki has a lot of power and I know when I get on she’s hitting me in,” said Manton. “It’s happened so many times this season. I was just waiting for it. I knew she would get around on it. When I saw her hit, I knew I had to get going because it was two outs. It was a great hit.”
With the tying run at third, Brainerd’s leading hitter walked to the plate. Senior pitcher Nikki Anderson, whom the Warriors have relied on heavily for the last four seasons, entered the game hitting .413. She had singled in the sixth. But in her final at bat, she popped up to end the game.
Anderson was her stellar self on the mound. She struck out seven and walked none. She allowed five hits.
“She’s phenomenal and she just amazes me,” Elk River head coach Stacey Sheetz said of Anderson. “We focus in practice on just hitting her. We mainly work on fast speed because she’s probably the fastest pitcher we see. We had to buck up the machine and get close and try to hit.
“We just wanted to get a bat on the ball. That’s all I wanted the girls to do today and see if we could do something. That’s how we prepared, but she’s amazing. She’s going to do well next year (at the University of Minnesota).”
DeChaine, who finished 1-2 with two walks and the RBI, scored in the sixth on Maria West’s infield single. Brainerd loaded the bases after that, but another pop-up ended the threat.
Manton reached on an error in the third and later moved to second before Anderson drilled a shot right back at the pitcher. Elk River’s Anna Pipenhagen put her glove up and snagged it.
That play would have been the defensive highlight had it not been for the Elks’ Jayme Langebehn’s diving catch in center field to get Sara Wennerstrand out.
“I’m just so proud of our kids and our coaches,” said Brainerd head coach Mike Zauhar. “We can’t do anything more. We just hit rocket shots and it’s part of the deal.
“We had so many good moments with this team this year and past years. It is very frustrating. We could not ask any more of the players. They performed extremely well. They put the bat on the ball. They stung it, but that’s athletics. They just kept competing though and we were just a whisker away from magic happening.”
Elk River topped Brainerd 5-0 on Monday to send the Warriors into the losers’ bracket. The Elks lost to Big Lake to set up the rematch. The victory gave Elk River another shot at Big Lake for the section title, which Big Lake won 6-4 later Wednesday.
It was the second straight year Elk River advanced to the section final. Last year, the Elks lost to Brainerd in a close 6-3 game. Sheetz was worried it was going to happen again.
“‘Oh crap’ was what was going through my mind” said Sheetz. “It’s never over until it’s over and I knew that because they have such a good staff and players. I just knew it wasn’t going to be over until that last out. I was nervous.”
Elk River 000 210 0 — 3 5 2
Brainerd 000 001 1 — 2 3 1
Elk River: Anna Pipenhagen and Bethani Athey
Brainerd: Nikki Anderson and Nikki DeChaine
WP: Pipenhagen. LP: Anderson.
2B: ER-Michaela Bruns, Dani Edwards
RBI: Brd-Maria West, DeChaine; ER-Courtney Jensen
LOB: Brd 8, ER 3