Pioneers end Packers’ season with 7-3 victory in Section 4AAA playoffs

Despite 45-degree weather and brisk, northwesterly winds, the Hill-Murray Pioneers and South St. Paul Packers squared off for seven full innings in the Section 4 Class AAA softball playoffs Monday, May 18.

Afterwards, Hill-Murray coach Colleen Conway said, “We got it done! ... There were a couple of focal points. Getting our opponent’s lead [batter] out is something we’ve been working on in practice.

“We were able to do that, and it’s always nice to see that those things are showing in the game.

“It was a pretty decent game for us. Nothing too high; nothing too low. Our pitcher [Holly Grengs] did great today. We’ve been working on a few different pitches with her, and she definitely stepped her game up. It was a good win today and now we move on.”

Grengs recorded nine strikeouts, gave up nine hits and walked none.

South St. Paul mentor Paul Moen stated, “We would have liked to give these guys a better game, but it didn’t happen. We hit the ball well, but didn’t get the hits when we really needed them.

“Then the [four] errors really hurt us. This is something we worked on and told the team, ‘If we don’t make errors, we can win the game.’ That didn’t happen, so now it’s another season gone by the boards.”

The Packers had nine hits and left a total of eight runners stranded on the base paths.

South St. Paul put the first run on the board when leadoff hitter Kory Rutkowski sailed the ball over the center field fence.

The Pioneers responded when Kennedy Houge led off with a single in the bottom of the first. An infield error on a ball hit by Anna Newton put runners on second and first.

They moved up on a fly ball, and then Katie Johnson’s ground ball drew an overthrow at first base, allowing two runs to score and putting her on second. She scampered to third on a wild pitch and came home when Sami Thompson drew a walk and was out on an attempted steal of second.

Hill-Murray owned a 3-1 margin on the strength of one hit and two costly South St. Paul errors.

The Pioneers sent nine batters to the plate in the third and widened their lead to 6-1.

Johnson led off with a single, and Thompson was safe on an infield error. Designated hitter Alli Clark banged a single to fill the bases. Sammie Rambo slashed a shot to center field for two RBI.

The bases were loaded again when Sophie Peterson and Haley LaValle walked. A third consecutive walk gave Houge an easy RBI as Rambo touched home.

The Packers picked up a run in the fourth when Rutkowski -- she was 3-for-4 and scored two runs -- slapped a shot to left field. She moved to second on an error and came home on a solid double by Kristin Waldhauser - she was 3-for-3 with two RBI.

South St. Paul scored its final run in the upper fifth when Rutkowski singled and Elise Barnes reached first on an error that allowed Rutkowski to move to third. The pair worked a perfect double steal, and the Packers had the three runs they would end the game with.

The Pioneers responded in the bottom of the inning when Rambo smacked a single through the left side. Peterson was safe on a fielder’s choice as Rambo moved to second. LaValle plated Rambo with a shot into center field, and the final 7-3 was put up on the board.

As the blanket-clad spectators headed for their cars, the line score read South St. Paul 3-9-4-8 and Hill-Murray 7-6-2-9.

Wally Wakefield can be reached at or at 651-748-7820.

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