The Mankato Free Press
---- — It's been almost a week since the state softball tournament at Caswell Park ended.
Looking back, three things stand out to this sports writer.
The first was the defensive play of Elk River's Jayme Langbehn in the Class AAA championship game.
The freshman almost single-handidly saved the game for the Elks, robbing Prior Lake of two potential home runs in centerfield. The highlight-reel catches kept Elk River in the game until it could push across the winning run in the eighth inning of a 4-3 victory.
Her defensive feats were appreciated by everyone in attendance — coaches, players and spectators alike. Considering the closeness of the game, her performance heightened the drama of what will always be a memorable finale.
The second thing that stands out to me is the performance of the New Ulm squad successfully defending its Class AA state title. It's not surprising that the Eagles won again, but what is surprising is the manner in which they did it.
Fastpitch has long been considered 90 percent pitching and 10 percent everything else. For New Ulm, however, that's not the case.
Senior Sydney Schuck is a quality high school pitcher but she's far from the flame-throwing, strikeout machine that fans normally associate with championship teams. Instead, she gets batters out by effectively changing speeds.
If you compared Schuck's fastball to that of everybody else's in the tournament, she'd probably end up in the bottom half of all pitchers. But she possesses a devastating change-up she throws with great accuracy.
Schuck uses the change just often enough to keep opposing batters guessing. She also mixes it in enough to make her other pitches that much effective.
Instead of relying on the dominant hard-throwing pitcher, New Ulm relies on a solid all-around defense and good hitting to beat most of its opponents. So much for the if-you-don't-have-an-all-world-pitcher-you-can't-win-it-all theory.
The third thing that sticks out is the overall interest in the tournament despite the absence of any Mankato teams. East, West and Loyola all failed to qualify for this year's competition but nearly 7,500 fans still came out to watch the best in the state do their thing.
Few left disappointed as the tournament included numerous extra-inning games and plenty of upsets of high-powered schools getting knocked off by unranked teams. The Class AAA title game couldn't have been closer or more exciting and there wasn't a Cougar, a Scarlet or a Crusader in sight.
Jim Rueda is The Free Press sports editor. He can be reached at 507-344-6381 or firstname.lastname@example.org