Pirates learn mental toughness over three losses in Greenbush
GREENBUSH — In one dugout resided a team that had gone 2-18 in its most recent season. In the other dugout: the 2019 Class A state runners-up.
Sunny Bowman knew her Crookston softball team would be in for a challenge Saturday. But at the very least, she knew they would have two more games later that day.
Bowman's expectations for her team are basic: learn and grow with each game. And by the end of the Badger/Greenbush-Middle River Day at the Park invite, the Pirates' coach seemed satisfied with what she had seen.
Crookston was run-ruled in its first two games Saturday, first a 21-0 loss to hosts Badger/Greenbush-Middle River followed by a 28-2 defeat to East Polk. But a back-and-forth 18-14 loss to Blackduck to cap off the day was enough for Bowman to say afterwards that her team can play.
"Throughout the day, we've learned some mental toughness," Bowman said after the Blackduck defeat. "We've learned to focus on the things that we can do and do them well. We came into the third game, that was our goal."
Early on, the Pirates appeared somewhat overwhelmed — not exactly an unpredictable outcome against a team the caliber of Badger/Greenbush-Middle River.
The Gators struck immediately by scoring six runs in the first inning, but it was the second inning where they really took over. They started making much harder contact against Crookston hurler Jenna Coauette, lacing seven hits — five of them for extra bases — and scoring 11 runs in the frame to take an insurmountable lead.
In the second game of the afternoon, East Polk got to Pirate left-hander Julia Lallier early. The North Stars drew six walks and used six base hits to take a 15-0 lead after one inning, while holding the Pirates scoreless for the first two innings.
Even with the game well in hand, East Polk kept up a steady procession of hitters stepping to the plate, reaching base and scoring. The North Stars scored 10 runs in the third inning, doing much of their damage on walks and hit-by-pitches.
"I really went into this game where we're not going to focus on the score," Bowman said of the Blackduck game. "Every inning, we're coming out and it's zero-zero. We just need to get some runs, and when we're going out to play defense we just need to play defense like we can."
Against the Drakes, Crookston mounted its first real rally in the bottom of the second inning. Lallier hit a hard grounder just inside the left-field line for a double. Quinn Siegle and Brianna Kelly both reached to load the bases. Lallier took advantage of a wild pitch to cross the plate, and Emma Boll hit a hard grounder that the Blackduck shortstop couldn't handle, allowing Siegle and Kelly to score.
Emily Bowman and Amber Cymbaluk then laced hard-hit balls into the outfield, each driving in one run apiece and giving the Pirates their first lead of the season.
"The girls came in and they wanted to hit the ball," Bowman said. "They had aggressive at-bats, we really were aggressive on the basepaths. That's what I was going for."
The Drakes took the lead for good when they scored eight runs in the top of the third, but Crookston never stopped chipping away. Kelly had a two-run single in the bottom of the third, and Bowman and Cymbaluk each drove in runs with consecutive base hits in the fifth.
The Pirates loaded the bases in the sixth inning, and with two outs and the score 16-11, Cymbaluk delivered once again with a hard liner to left field. Coauette, whose five-strikeout performance on the mound had held Blackduck within striking distance, brought her team within 16-14 with a bloop single to right.
"We put the ball into play," Bowman said. "That was probably the most important thing in this game."
Blackduck held on in the end, taking advantage of Crookston fielding mistakes to score in all but one inning. Going forward, Bowman said she wanted to see her team catch the ball better, but was encouraged by her team's hitting performance.
"We know how to do it, we can hit," Bowman said. "We have a lot of hitters that are kind of scared in there. There's no reason to be scared. Just go be tough, and then just we need to build up on our mental toughness a little bit."
The Pirates came into Saturday looking for concrete proof that they could compete, and in large part, they found it. Where they go from here might just hinge on the aforementioned mental side of things.
UP NEXT: Crookston is scheduled to take on Grand Forks Central (N.D.) Monday, April 19 at Apollo Field in Grand Forks.
BADGER/GREENBUSH-MIDDLE RIVER 21, CROOKSTON 0 (4)
EAST POLK 28, CROOKSTON 2 (4)
East Polk 15-3-10-X—28-12-1
BLACKDUCK 18, CROOKSTON 14
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