The Faribault Falcons made their road to repeat a state title tougher today with a 4-0 loss to the Mankato West Scarlets at Caswell Park in North Mankato.  The matchup featured the #1 and #2 ranked teams in Class 3A in the state and the top two seeds in the Section 2AAA Tournament.  The Scarlets are the only team to defeat Faribault this season.

In my opinion this was the biggest game in the tournament because the victor needs just one more win to advance to state and the losing team has to win three more games to get there.  If there is any team in the state however that can pull that off it's Faribault.  But they have to get back to stellar defense and not allow two strike hits.  The Scarlets first hit was on a 1-2 count, the second hit a 1-2 count, the third hit a 0-2 count.  The two strike compact swing came out. The pitch in that situation has to be a waste pitch or should I say chase pitch.  Something the batter can't hit and if they try they get themselves out.

Faribault had their chances to take an early lead.  Abby Lake stroked a single to start the game and stole second base before Ellie Knutson was walked.  McKayla Armbruster moved them to second and third base.  Mankato West Head Coach Don Krusemark intentionally walked Abby Van Ryn to load the bases with one out putting a force at any base.  Senior Lauren Steinberg was moved up in the batting order because of her hot bat as of late.  With the infield drawn in already Steinberg hit a hard grounder to Scarlets shortstop Jalissa Stoltzman who immediately threw home to get the force out of Lake.  Falcon Head Coach Chris Silber thought the catcher blocked the plate but the umpire said no.  A ground out ended the inning.

Armbruster struck out the side in the first inning then gave up a lead walk to start the second but struck out two and got a week pop out to end that inning.  The Falcon senior struck out two of three batters in the third.  First time through the order 7 strikeouts, 1 walk no hits.

Faribault got a lead single from Lake to start the third inning.  The next two batters were retired by a strikeout and ground out.  Van Ryn wasn't given the automatic free pass but Mankato West did not throw any pitches for her to hit in a four pitch walk.  Steinberg also received a four pitch walk and the Falcons had the bases loaded again.  A ground out ended that threat.

Freshman second baseman Abby Stierlin opened the fourth inning with a single off a Armbruster changeup on a 1-2 count.  Number 3 hitter Jalissa Stoltzman laid down a sacrifice bunt on a 2-0 count to get Stierlin in scoring position.  Armbruster had a 1-2 count against cleanup hitter Kenzie Grunst but the senior third baseman shortened her swing to connect for an RBI single.

An error did allow Grunst to end up at third base.  On the first pitch to freshman catcher Bri Stoltzman Coach Krusemark called for the suicide squeeze and the Scarlets pulled it off to get the crooked number they wanted and take a 2-0 lead.

In the top of the fourth inning Faribault had a single by Lindsay O'Neil to start the inning giving them the lead batter on base in three of the first four innings.  Designated Player junior Kelsie Demars executed a bunt to get O'Neil to second base.  There was a second out.  Lake came to the plate with two hits in two trips and was walked to put runners at first and second with two outs.  Coach Krusemark elected to pull his starting right handed pitcher junior Kayla Grunst and bring in left handed Lauryn Douglas.

Grunst threw 3 and 2/3 innings of shutout ball with three hits allowed and 5 walks.  The junior threw 63 pitches, 30 strikes.  Douglas allowed just two hits the rest of the way.  The freshman was efficient with 45 total pitches thrown, 28 for strikes.  1 strikeout and 1 walk in 3 and 1/3 innings.

In the top of the 5th inning down 2-1 Abby Van Ryn was robbed of a home run to right field by Scarlets junior Madi Mueller that would have cut the lead in half.

In the bottom of the fifth after an inning opening hit and error allowed the lead runner to stand at second base the Scarlets had a bunt attempt end in a pop up out.  The number nine batter, center fielder junior Holly Wiste executed a bunt to get the runner to third base.  Armbruster got a pop up to end the threat.

Lindsay O'Neil smacked a one out single to left in the top of the 6th inning but a strike out looking and pop up ended that threat.

The game plan early for Faribault appeared to be to pitch inside and jam the Mankato West hitters but credit the Scarlets for making an adjustment against the state's best strikeout pitcher. In the bottom of the 6th inning Stierlin led off with a triple on a 1-0 count.  She opened up her stance so she could turn on a inside pitch and that's exactly what she got.  Following a pop up Kenzie Grunst opened up her stance to hit an inside pitch and hammered the first pitch for a double to make it 3-0.  Following an error there was a strikeout for the second out and Douglas hit a 1-2 pitch for a single to get the 4th run of the game in for Mankato West.

Armbruster threw 92 pitches, 70 for strikes with 9 strikeouts, 1 walk, 5 hits, 2 earned runs.  A line against arguably the state's best hitting team that should be good enough to get a win. When Mankato West defeated Faribault 3-1 in 14 innings on May 2 in Faribault the Scarlets clubbed 10 hits.

The Falcons had 3 errors in the game with 2 factoring in runs. Mankato West not only played error free ball they had some very good defensive plays.  Stoltzman is like a vacuum cleaner at shortstop.  She finished the game with 7 assists.

Line totals were:

Mankato West 4 runs     5 hits      0 errors     4 runners left     3 scoring position

Faribault          0 runs     5 hits      3 errors     11 runners left    6 scoring position

Faribault is now 20-2 and Mankato West 22-1.

New Ulm defeated Mankato East in the elimination bracket game so Faribault goes back to North Mankato Tuesday and plays the Eagles at 5:00 p.m.  The game will be broadcast on POWER 96 Radio, 95.9 FM and the POWER 96 app beginning at 4:45 p.m.

The team that wins that game has to then beat Mankato West twice to go to state.

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