NORTH MANKATO — For three seasons, Kelsey Berndt waited as a backup pitcher while Carlie Brandt led the Le Sueur-Henderson softball team to three straight state tournaments.

Brandt graduated in 2016 and went on to the University of Minnesota, where last week, she participated in the College World Series.

Berndt took over as the Giants’ No. 1 pitcher, but found out that getting to state wasn’t so easy, missing out as a sophomore and a junior.

“It puts things into perspective, definitely,” Berndt said, “that we’re no longer invincible, that we do have our flaws. (State) is something to work up to, that we can continue to do. So getting back here, it makes it that much more awesome.”

In her final shot as a senior, Berndt helped the Giants win the Section 2AA championship last week in a thrilling, 11-inning game against defending champ St. Peter and, today, has them back in the state tournament. Le Sueur-Henderson (18-7) is the fifth seed and will play fourth-seeded Thief River Falls (23-3) at 9 a.m. today at Caswell Park.

“It’s so special to be a part of this,” Berndt said. “From the beginning of the season, our goal was to work hard to see the end result. To actually finally see it happen it’s just so rewarding. And to do it with these girls is amazing.”

Berndt has a 13-5 record and 1.87 earned-run average. She has 109 strikeouts to 22 walks over 116 ⅓ innings.

“She walked into a tough spot,” Giants co-coach Anne Lewis said. “She walked into some big shoes. And she has done nothing but give it 110%. We could not be more proud of her and what she’s done.”

Berndt is also hitting .274 with 16 RBIs.

“The best thing about Kelsey is she stays even-keel all the time,” Lewis said. “She doesn’t get down on herself; she doesn’t get down on her teammates when they make a mistake. She doesn’t get over-anxious. She does what she needs to do.”

Berndt, who plans to continue her softball career at St. Catherine University, is one of five seniors on the LSH roster.

Shortstop Liz Milam leads the offense with a .422 average and has 27 RBIs and 23 runs scored. Outfielder Erica Cronk is hitting .353 with four home runs, 23 RBIs and 24 runs. Mia Preuhs and Emily Wilke are the other seniors.

“It’s really special just to be a part of this,” Berndt said. “You genuinely feel like you have a family. Like, you have your actual family, but then this is your softball family.

"To be able to meet those expectations that we have every year, it’s hard work. But we’re up to it every year, and we’re willing to work hard at it and we have each other’s backs.”

Three sophomores have had outstandings seasons for the Giants. Outfielder Halle Bemmels is hitting .395 with 16 RBIs and 24 runs. Third baseman Olivia Fritz is hitting .306 with 11 doubles and 30 RBIs.

Catcher Zoe Thomsen is hitting .397. Eighth-grade second baseman Rhyan Fritz, who drove in the game-winning run in the section championship game, is hitting .364.

But co-coach Eric Lewis said Berndt “is the heart of this group.”

“Her confidence has grown year after year after year,” he said. “Once Carlie left, she was like, ‘Oh, OK,’ and you could just see her continue to grow. Then last year, getting to (the section championship) game brought her focus up even more. She was like, ‘We’re doing this thing. We’re getting this done.’”

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