One swing of the bat.
That was the difference for the Willmar Cardinals as they outlasted the Brainerd Warriors 5-4 in nine innings Friday at Adamson Field for their third consecutive Section 8, Class 3A softball championship.
After Brainerd won Friday's first game 2-1, a double by Cardinals shortstop Alyssa Dahl in the bottom of the ninth won the second game.
Randiann Sather led off the Willmar ninth with a single and was bunted to second by Andrea Brown. Dahl then hit a liner that Brainerd center fielder Paige Olson dove for and narrowly missed, scoring Sather with the game-winner.
"I was just looking for a pitch that would be in my strike zone," said Dahl, the Cardinals' leading hitter with a .477 average. "I just wanted to get on base so I just swung and there it went."
Warrior outfielders had flustered Willmar hitters all day with several nice catches.
"We finally got one in the gap," Willmar coach Guy Nelsen said. "They made catch after catch out there, diving, stuff like that."
The loss ended Brainerd's season with a 20-6 mark.
"It was two quality teams going at it like two heavyweight boxers," Warriors coach Mike Zauhar said. "It was just pound for pound, punch for punch.
"I'm so unbelievably proud of this team and the way they competed. Never once all year did they ever throw the towel in. We had to win two games, and that's a pretty stiff task, but I knew we were up for the challenge. The kids came through and nipped the first one and with a break here or there we could have gotten the second one as easily as the first."
Willmar 5, Warriors 4
Willmar, the home team after winning a coin flip, maintained a 4-2 lead after six innings.
Brainerd tied it in the top of the seventh. Abby Rehberger walked and Lindsey Jourdan reached on an error, putting runners at second and third. One out later, pitcher Hilary Smith's ground ball to short was misplayed by Dahl, scoring two runs.
"I was kicking myself for that one," said Dahl, who finished 3-for-5. "I knew I had to make it up somehow but I didn't know how, either make a good defensive play or just not make any more errors to help the team out."
With two out in the first, Dahl singled and scored on Lisa Jeremiason's double. Hilary Smith, who pitched all 16 innings for Brainerd, then appeared to fake a throw toward Jeremiason, but the ball slipped out of her hand and bounced into the outfield, allowing Jeremiason to score.
Willmar 5, Warriors 4
The key: Willmar's Alyssa Dahl doubled in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
Warriors 2, Willmar 1
The key: Hilary Smith's two-run triple in the sixth lifted Brainerd to victory.
Brainerd scored in the third on Smith's RBI fielder's choice.
Willmar went ahead 4-1 in the fourth on Laura Nielsen's home run over the left field fence. The Cardinals missed a chance to put the game out of reach, leaving the bases loaded.
"Laura's been hitting ball hard the last two weeks," Nelsen said. "I happened to move her up to the No. 5 spot. She was batting seventh. She's starting to see the ball well."
Brainerd added a run in the fifth when Rehberger scored on Jourdan's double to left-center.
Jeremiason pitched six innings, struck out three, walked two and gave up four hits and one earned run. Callie Nelsen pitched three innings, giving up one hit and no earned runs or walks and struck out three.
Stephanie Neugebauer doubled and tripled for Brainerd and Jourdan was 2-for-5.
Smith gave up 12 hits and four earned runs, walked two and fanned five.
Brainerd 001 010 200 -- 4 5 1
Willmar 200 200 001 -- 5 12 5
Will-Lisa Jeremiason, Callie Nelsen (7) and Andrea Brown. Brd-Hilary Smith and Abby Rehberger. W-Nelsen. L-Smith.
2B-Will, Jeremiason, Sara Krueger, Alyssa Dahl; Brd, Lindsey Jourdan, Stephanie Neugebauer. 3B-Brd, Neugebauer. HR-Will, Laura Nielsen. Sac-Will, Brown. RBI-Will, Jeremiason, Dahl, Nielsen 2; Brd, Smith, Jourdan. LOB-Will 9, Brd 8.
Warriors 2, Willmar 1
Smith drove in both Brainerd runs with a triple in the sixth.
Willmar scored its only run in the top of the seventh. Nielsen led off with a single. Courtesy runner Bobbi Sather scored all the way from first on a throwing error. The Cardinals had two runners thrown out at third in the inning. The game ended when Sather flew out to left.
Smith and Callie Nelsen each gave up three hits and combined to walk two and strike out three.
Willmar 000 000 1 -- 1 3 1
Brainerd 000 002 x -- 2 3 1
Will-Callie Nelsen and Andrea Brown. Brd-Hilary Smith and Abby Rehberger. W-Smith. L-Nelsen.
3B-Brd, Smith. SB-Will, Krueger; Brd, Alison LeBlanc. Sac-Will, Sather; Brd, Jourdan, Olson. RBI-Brd, Smith 2. LOB-Will 6, Brd 3.
Mike Bialka can be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.