A cold rain with plenty of wind made Tuesday night's softball game between the Hastings Raiders and Henry Sibley Warriors thoroughly miserable. However, only one team looked as if they were bothered by the uncomfortable conditions. The Warriors' players shivered in the field, soaked, and had several wild pitches and passed balls due to the rain. Meanwhile, the Raiders smiled and cheered and yelled like it was 80 degrees and sunny during a holiday tournament. The result was Hastings-the No. 6 seed in Section 3AAAA-upsetting No. 3 Henry Sibley 9-5 in the first round of the section playoffs, their first win against the Warriors in three tries this season.
Head coach Ken Lundquist said that he knew his team would have the advantage in the May 21 matchup as soon as he saw the forecast. The Raiders take pride in how they prepare for games with less than ideal weather and really focus on maintaining the right attitude.
"It's like 'hey, we can't do anything about the weather, gotta act like its 90 degrees and sunny' and that's what we say. Make sure we dress right, make sure we bring extra socks and extra jackets, and I don't ever want to see anyone acting like its cold, just be happy and act like it's any other day and that's what we did," Lundquist said. "The other team did not want to play, if you watched them in the field they were shivering, they did not want to be out there. And ironically, we had our conference meeting on Monday and I was talking to the Henry Sibly coach and he's like 'I hope we don't get this crappy weather because I hate playing in that stuff.' I didn't say anything, I just listened and was like that's an advantage right there, I hope it's raining and I hope it's cold."
The Raiders got off to a rough start as they went down one-two-three in their first at-bats and then gave up an error and two hits in a row to give Henry Sibley the bases loaded with no outs in the bottom of the first. What happened next was what Lundquist called one of two defining moments in the game.
"I thought two things did (set the tone for the game) and that was definitely one of them. The way we started that game in my mind it was like 'oh man this is not looking good, we haven't scored a run against this team in 17 innings, they got the bases loaded with nobody out'," he said. "But then Kayla (Simacek) dug deep, struck out the next two and then we get the third out. Just kind of shows you what kind of team we have, they don't give up, and Kayla especially, nothing really phases her. She did what she had to do and it was great to see."
The Warriors scored one run in the bottom of the second to take a 1-0 lead and then came the second moment, which would set the tone for Hastings offensively. After the Raiders struck out in six of their first eight at-bats, freshman Olivia Mattson rocketed a single into left field. Lundquist said that seeing a young player like Mattson show no fear against a very good pitcher from Henry Sibley-and hit the ball hard-seemed to wake up the Raider bats. They went on to score three runs in the inning on an RBI-single by the senior Simacek and a two-RBI single by freshman Kendal Jenkins.
From there, it was pretty much cruise control for Hastings. They scored a run in the top of the fourth on an RBI-double by freshman Hailey Hoff and then another in the top of the fifth thanks to another RBI-single by senior Anna Van Hatten. Leading 5-1, Henry Sibley attempted to make a comeback after scoring two runs in the bottom of the sixth to cut the deficit to 5-3. However, the Raiders responded with four runs in the top of the seventh to go ahead 9-3. Van Hatten had another RBI-single, Mattson brought in a run on her second hit of the game, freshman Reanna Reinke walked to bring in a run and senior Maddie Junker had an RBI-single as well.
The Warriors scored two more runs in the bottom of the seventh but it was nowhere near enough and Hastings won 9-5. Simacek threw all seven innings and gave up five runs (four earned) on 11 hits and two walks with nine strikeouts to get the win against a very good team. The Raiders' offense racked up nine runs on 13 hits and five walks. Simacek led the team with three hits, while Van Hatten, Hoff and Mattson each had two hits. Jenkins and Van Hatten both had two RBI.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this Hastings softball team are the contributions of very young players. With seniors Sydney and Sarah Radke out of the lineup, the Raiders now are playing four freshmen (Reinke, Kendal Jenkins, Hoff and Mattson) a significant amount of time with seventh-grader Lauren Jenkins being the first player off the bench as a pinch runner. Lundquist called Mattson "fearless" both in left field and in the batter's box and praised how well junior Grace Hood has adapted to playing catcher.
Hastings plays the winner of No. 2 Park of Cottage Grove and No. 7 Rosemount on Thursday, May 23, in Richfield. The Wolfpack and Irish had play suspended on Tuesday, May 21, in the middle of their game and resume play on Wednesday afternoon. Top-seeded East Ridge beat No. 8 Apple Valley 11-1 and No. 5 Eagan knocked off No. 4 Eastview 17-4.