Brainerd Warriors softball coach Mike Zauhar finds himself in a pickle with two regular-season games left before the playoffs.
The fifth-year head coach has too many good players and not enough spots to play them. So when a player like senior Liz Ellens cracks into the Warrior lineup she makes it difficult for Zauhar to replace her.
Ellens went 2-for-3 in a 3-0 game-one victory over the St. Cloud Tech Tigers Friday. In an 11-1 game-two win she finished 1-for-3 with a run, three RBI and two stolen bases to help the Warriors sweep the Central Lakes Conference doubleheader at Adamson Field.
"Liz Ellens is swinging a great bat for us," said Zauhar. "She got us going in that first game. The weather conditions weren't the best, but she fired us up with her hot bat and it was contagious. It just spread through the team and our attitude was very good. Then we just swung our sticks very well."
The wins gave Brainerd (13-4) its sixth and seventh straight with games against Little Falls Tuesday and Bemidji Friday left before the North Subsection 8, Class 3A tournament.
"We need to win out here to get the No. 1 seed in the north half," Zauhar said. "Our defense has always been strong. It has been strong for us all year and it continued to shine (Friday) and hopefully it will continue one more week."
The Brainerd Warriors held a 2-0 lead for 24 days as an April 19 game at St. Cloud was called after the third inning because of rain.
When the game resumed, Brainerd pitcher Hilary Smith continued where she left off as she stymied the Tigers and finished with nine strikeouts.
Brainerd scored one run in the fifth for the final score.
Warriors 3-11, St. Cloud Tech 0-1
The key: Liz Ellens finished 3-for-6 with three RBI, two stolen bases and a run to ignite Brainerd.
Conference: Brd 10-3, SCT 2-8
Overall: Brd 13-4, SCT 4-11
Next: vs. Little Falls, 5 p.m. Tuesday at Adamson Field
Ellens ignited the offense as her two-run single in the second inning drove home Angela Hendrickson and Kylie Abrahamson for a 2-0 Warrior lead.
"I'm just going up there and being aggressive," said Ellens. "I'm looking for that first strike and then swing. My confidence is good right now.
"I was comfortable up there. I got up there and all I saw was the ball."
In the fourth inning she scored one of the Warriors' four runs on a Lindsey Jourdan base hit. Jourdan and Abby Rehberger scored on a Paige Olson blast to center field. Olson also scored on the play thanks to two throwing errors.
Abrahamson stung a run-scoring double in the fifth inning and scored on an Ellens fielder's choice for a 9-0 Brainerd edge.
Tech scored its run in the top of the sixth, but Brainerd finished off the Tigers in the bottom of the inning on Abrahamson's game-ending single that drove in Kari Jensen.
Abrahamson was 2-4 with two runs, two RBI and a stolen base.
Smith struck out two and allowed just two hits in the sixth inning. She helped her cause by going 1-for-2 with a run and RBI.
"Liz is making it very difficult for me to keep her out of the starting lineup," Zauhar said. "She's playing well and she has all year. She had an outstanding game (Friday). It's a nice problem for a coach to have. We have a lot of players playing well at this time and they all should be starters. You can only start nine and (Friday) we felt Liz had a hot bat, went with her and she didn't disappoint us."
Brainerd 020 010 0 -- 3 7 0
St. Cloud Tech 000 000 0 -- 0 3 0
Tech -- Carmel Ditlevson and Megan Foley. Brainerd -- Hilary Smith and Abby Rehberger. W -- Smith. L -- Ditlevson.
St. Cloud Tech 000 001 -- 1 2 6
Brainerd 021 422 -- 11 6 1
Tech -- Carmel Ditlevson and Megan Foley. Brainerd -- Hilary Smith and Abby Rehberger. W -- Smith. L -- Ditlevson
2B -- Brd-Paige Olson, Kylie Abrahamson, SCT-Brianna Sheeley. SB -- Brd-Olson, Abrahamson, Liz Ellens (2). Sac -- Brd-Alison LeBlanc. RBI -- Brd-Jourdan, Olson (2), Smith, LeBlanc, Abrahamson (2), Ellens (3). LOB -- Brd 3, SCT 3.
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.
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