The Brainerd Warriors softball team was effectively taken out of its game Tuesday night, although it was only partly due to the play of the Willmar Cardinals.
A gusting wind that knocked down any ball hit in the air hindered the Warriors' powerful lineup as they dropped a Central Lakes Conference matchup 2-1 to the Cardinals.
"Our club is really a power-hitting club," Brainerd coach Mike Zauhar said. "We're not blessed with a lot of team speed so our game is to bunch a couple of hits together.
"I don't know if the wind had a psychological effect on our kids, but it's definitely going to hurt with that gale blowing like it was."
The Warriors also ran into a tough Willmar pitcher, Kari Hawes, who gave up only two hits, and a defense that seemed to come up with the right play at the right time. Anytime Brainerd managed to get a runner on base, it was always with two out, making it difficult to get runners in scoring position.
Willmar's Alison Adamson started off the game with a single and later scored on Ashley Larson's sacrifice fly to give the Cardinals the early lead.
Brainerd pitcher Erin Donnelly settled down after that and found the type of control that Zauhar likes to see. Donnelly allowed only one batter to reach base throughout the next three innings. For the game, Donnelly only allowed two hits while striking out two and walking one.
"Erin Donnelly had a great game," Zauhar said. "For her first time out this year, she had great control and great composure. She's just a gamer."
Donnelly and the Warriors found themselves in trouble in the fifth inning as Willmar loaded the bases with two out. A sharply hit ground ball was mishandled by Brainerd shortstop Megan Arns, allowing Andria Manz to score, giving the Cardinals a 2-run lead.
That's how the score stood as the Warriors entered their final at bat.
Brainerd, which hadn't gotten to Hawes all game, finally found its bats as Sarah Johnson led off the inning with a double down the left-field line. A walk to Jvonne Larson and an error loaded the bases.
Facing an 0-2 count, Abby Rehberger's single scored Johnson and narrowed Willmar's lead to one with nobody out.
After Jackie Sullivan struck out, Larson was tagged out at home after a botched suicide squeeze bunt. Alyssa Anderson then grounded out to first base to end the game.
Zauhar pointed out that even though it's early in the season, his team shouldn't be happy with coming up just short.
"I'm disappointed that we didn't get the win because it was right there for us to get," said Zauhar. "We've played enough that this one should sting a little bit. There were some breakdowns and some mental errors."
Even with those breakdowns, Zauhar and his team know they faced a formidable opponent and he is sure they will rebound after the loss.
"Willmar is a very good team and made the defensive plays all night long," Zauhar said. "We had a couple of miscues but I have a lot of confidence in this team. I know we can play better and I know we can certainly hit better. But it's early in the season and things will be just fine."
Willmar 100 010 0 -- 2 2 3
Brainerd 000 000 1 -- 1 3 3
Willmar -- Kari Hawes, Amber Guetter (7) and Andria Manz; Brainerd -- Erin Donnelly and Sacha Holbrook. WP -- Hawes. LP -- Donnelly. 2B -- B-Sarah Johnson. SB -- B-Jvonne Larson, Megan Arns; W-Katy Hilbert. SAC -- W-Ashley Larson. RBI -- B-Abby Rehberger; W-Larson, Manz. LOB -- B-7, W-5. Conference -- B 1-1. Overall -- B 1-1. Next game -- Alexandria at Brainerd 5 p.m. Thursday.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.