by BEN MCLEOD
Cotter’s triumphant softball trip to state suffered a frustrating collision on Thursday, June 7, when the Ramblers suffered a rare loss when it counts. The St. Peter Saints drove Cotter out of the state tournament with a 0-10 loss that built up like a bad dream.
Cotter’s season took them to the top of the Three Rivers Conference with a 12-1-0 record, and St. Peter may have seemed like a walk-over. But anyone who mistook the Saints’ 10-2 season for weakness would have been wrong. While Cotter had the miracle pitching of junior Isabel Northrup, St. Peter had a pitcher-breaking strategy up their sleeve.
Cotter arrived in their usual form, denying hits into the fourth. What looked like a scoring run for senior Rambler Aspen Jerowski in the second was thrown out, and after that the Saints did not give up another hit. There was a lot of walking on Thursday.
A bump in the road appeared for the Ramblers in the top of the fourth when two Saints players knocked in a single and a triple, setting the score at 0-2, but 0-2 is a reasonable distance to go for a team that hadn’t allowed more than six runs per game all season, averaging less than 1.5 runs allowed per game. Eighth-grader Alison French got a walk in the bottom of the fourth, then the fifth inning began.
There are no walk-over games at the state level. “Every team is good,” mused coach Pat Bowlin. “And they make you pay for your mistakes, and that’s what happened to us.” What can a team do against an intimidating pitcher like Northrup? Stop swinging. St. Peter mounted a bunt blitzkreig in the fifth inning and was more than happy to take all the walks they could grab, and all the runs they could steal.
The greatest young athletes stubbornly refuse to give up hope in the face of adversity, but after eight runs in one inning, every one an unearned point, the Cotter Ramblers finally struck out St. Peter’s 13th batter swinging and entered the sixth under a 0-10 scoreboard, ending their hopes for a state championship.
“They seemed very locked-in,” Bowlin said, describing St. Peter. “Falling tough pitches off, making long at-bats, they were very impressive today. I give them a lot of credit.” St. Peter went on to beat Annandale in the second round, but fell to Class AA winner Maple Lake. “Obviously in the fifth we gave up two critical errors that prolonged the inning, and you just can’t do that against a good team,” explained Bowlin. “You can’t give them one extra out. If you give them two, then you see a big number go up on the scoreboard.”
On Thursday night, Cotter beat St. Agnes 5-1, and on Friday — after a day-long rain delay — Cotter whomped Esko 6-0 to win the state consolation tournament, a mini-meet of the four teams that lose their first-round games. Bowlin and his team did not check out after their loss to St. Peter. “We had such a great season, we don’t want to go out on a sour note,” he said.
Next year’s Cotter team will have absences where three senior players have moved on: Josie Huelskamp, Mallory Cunningham, and Aspen Jerowski. Losing players who have hovered near the top of the team’s fielding and hitting rosters will be a loss, but solid talent is waiting in the wings. Ellie Macal and Jordan Rubie will be back in the outfield, Britney Meier and Alison French will be back at bat, and “Izzy” Northrup will be on the plate, along with some new pitching talent. The storied 2018 team has taken the field together for the last time, and even though they won two of their three games at the tournament, it only takes one loss to seal a season. “It just shows you never know in this game. I really believe that this team was ready to play its best game of the season,” said Bowlin.
Among the awards Cotter brought home this season were a place for Northrup on the All-State Tournament Team, spots for Northrup and Josie Huelskamp on the Class AA All-State Second Team, and a Class AA Honorable Mention All State for Britney Meier. Northrup, Huelskamp and Meier, along with Abree Dieterman and Alison French are listed All Conference, with Aspen Jerowski as honorable mention.