By TROY KOLTES
FOR THE PIONEER
For the second consecutive year, the Orono girls softball team finished second in the 6AAA section tournament.
The Spartans hosted their first two section games, beating Minneapolis South 4-1, and falling by the same score to conference rival Waconia. The loss to Waconia sent Orono to the “Play-In” bracket, where they would need three more wins to advance to the section final.
The later rounds of the tournament were played on Tuesday, May 30 and Thursday, June 1 at Aquila Park ball fields – a neutral site in St. Louis Park.
The Spartans faced Benilde-St. Margaret’s in their first play-in game. BSM held a 2-1 advantage through three and a half innings, but the Spartan bats came alive starting in the bottom of the fourth. Orono scored nine unanswered runs over the next three innings to secure the win.
Megan Geelan, Jordi Arends and Alyssa Denneson each had three hits for OHS and Denneson added four RBIs to lead the offense.
With a break of less than an hour, the Spartans played their next game shortly after.
The Mound-Westonka White Hawks offered the next obstacle for Orono to overcome. The White Hawks staged an early rally, loading the bases in the first inning with no outs. The fourth batter for Mound Westonka then flared a foul ball toward the fence beyond first base. Spartan first baseman Emma Koltes caught the pop-up just shy of the fence.
As the White Hawk runner tagged up from third base, Koltes fired the ball to catcher Megan Geelan who applied the tag to complete a nifty double play and effectively end the rally.
Orono took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning where they scored six times over the next two frames. Mound mounted a seventh inning rally, but Orono held on for an 8-5 win.
Offensive leaders for the Spartans were Jordan Case with two hits and two RBIs and Jordi Arends with two hits, two runs and two RBIs.
Orono had to win one more game to make it to the section final and that opportunity came two days later against another conference foe, Delano.
OHS jumped out with early runs, scoring three runs in the first and adding another in the second. The Delano Tigers were only able to manage one run through the first six innings, giving the Spartans a 4-1 lead heading into the last inning.
Delano strung together enough offense to tie the game 4-4 in the seventh and force extra innings.
In the top half of the eighth, the Tigers scored one more run, putting the pressure on the Spartans hitters. On the first pitch in the bottom of the eighth, Alyssa Denneson pounded her fourth homerun of the season over the left field fence to tie the game.
Orono then proceeded to load the bases with just one out. With Maddy Schliinz on third base, Case stepped to the plate and laid down an excellent bunt. Schliinz took off from third as the Delano pitcher released the ball. After a cloud of dust and a close play at the plate, the umpire signaled “safe” and Orono had the win with a walk-off suicide squeeze.
The Spartans had an enthusiastic, but short-lived celebration as following the win, they had to face the Waconia Wildcats in less than an hour for a chance to go to the state tournament.
Riding a wave of adrenaline, Orono took a 3-1 lead into the fourth inning against Waconia on a three-run homerun off the bat of Denneson. Waconia then took advantage of the tiring Spartans by scoring nine runs in the last four innings.
The final score was 10-5 and the Spartans bid for the section title fell short.
Seniors, Geelan and Schliinz finished their Orono Softball careers in impressive fashion. Unofficial statistics show Geelan leading the team in batting average (.481), on base percentage (.544) and tied for the lead in hits (38). She also added five doubles, one triple and four homeruns. Schliinz was second on the team in doubles (8) and second in RBIs (22). She finished with a .292 batting average, a .378 on base percentage and two homeruns. Both Geelan, who played catcher, and Schliinz at shortstop were solid and often spectacular, defensive players throughout the 2017 season.