FERGUS FALLS -- The Brainerd Warriors softball team made one thing clear Tuesday in the North Subsection 8, Class 3A championship game: Defense rules the roost.
Behind a rock solid defense that didn't commit an error and a masterful pitching performance by Erin Donnelly, the Warriors downed the Bemidji Lumberjacks 5-3 for the north subsection championship. With the win, the Warriors will play a best of three series against Willmar, a team that beat them twice in the regular season, for the right to represent Section 8 in the Class 3A state tournament.
Sacha Holbrook was 2-for-4 and Megan Arns was 1-for-1 with two walks and two runs scored.
"It's a great feeling," Warriors coach Mike Zauhar said about winning the subsection championship. "This team has been resilient all year. I don't think we played our best ball, but it was good enough to win. When the going got tough, the tough got going and that epitomizes our team. It was a great team win."
It got tough right away for the Warriors as Tara Hiscock, who was 2-for-3 and drove in both Lumberjack runs, laced a Donnelly offering down the right field line. Hiscock motored around the bases and beat Brainerd's relay to score the inside-the-park home run and give Bemidji an 1-0 lead after an inning.
It was in the second inning that Lumberjacks pitcher Nicole Daniels lost control and aided the patient Brainerd hitters by giving up four walks and one hit batter. Arns and Sarah Johnson were both walked home for runs and Donnelly scored as Daniels hit Abby Rehberger for the second time in as many at bats.
The Warriors added another run in the third as Arns, who walked and moved over to second on a picture-perfect bunt by Haley Bower, scored on Bemidji third baseman Amy Zyllo's errant throw to first after a Donnelly bunt, giving Brainerd a 4-1 lead.
A Hiscock single scored Kristy Wallner in the bottom of the third inning to bring the Lumberjacks to within two of Brainerd's lead.
The Warriors' defense and Donnelly's pitching then took over. Arns made two beautiful plays at short stop, robbing a base hit with a backhand grab of a line drive deep in the hole and threw out a runner at home on an attempted steal.
Donnelly, who picked up the win, only gave up four hits while walking three and was consistently hitting the strike zone, letting her defense back her up.
"The defense means so much to me as a pitcher," said Donnelly. "It's a big confidence booster knowing they're back there. I can just pitch the ball in there and let the defense go to work."
Just for good measure, Brainerd's Kelsey Anderson scored an insurance run in the top of the seventh as she beat the throw to home.
"That was a big run," Zauhar said. "Kelsey did a nice job of reading the throw and getting down at home plate. The most important part was that she got down and dirty."
Donnelly then forced three pop ups to end the game and Bemidji's chances for a comeback.
Brainerd 031 000 1 -- 5 5 0
Bemidji 101 000 0 -- 2 4 2
Brainerd -- Erin Donnelly and Sacha Holbrook. Bemidji -- Nicole Daniels and Tara Hiscock. W -- Donnelly. L -- Daniels. HR -- Bem-Hiscock. SB -- Bem-Kristy Wallner, Erin Sullivan; Brd-Kelsey Anderson, Megan Arns. Sac -- Brd-Abby Rehberger, Megan Arns. RBI -- Bem-Hiscock 2; Brd-Rehberger, Larson, Donnelly, Sullivan. LOB -- Bem-2; Brd-8. DP -- Bem-1; Brd-1. Overall -- Brd 17-6. Next game -- Brd at Willmar 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursday.
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