It’s not where the Giants wanted to be, but it’s still a chance at state tournament hardware.

After a heart-breaking 4-3, 8-inning loss in game one of the Class AA state tourney at Caswell Park in North Mankato, Le Sueur-Henderson’s girls softball team topped Esko 7-0 late Thursday to advance into Friday morning’s consolation championship.

Keely Olness turned in a career night, as the junior first baseman accounted for four RBIs in the game two victory. Olness, batting eighth in the Giants’ lineup, drove in two with a fourth-inning single, then sealed the deal with another two-run single in the seventh.

Olness was pleased with the team’s offensive performance in game two, as the Giants pounded out 11 hits in topping the Eskomos. Esko finished the season at 18-7.

“We were just all seeing the ball really well,” Olness said after the win, happy to play one more state tourney game. “I think we’re really just excited to be playing another game tomorrow.”

But as any season finale goes, it’s a bittersweet feeling, she added. Olness and her fellow underclassmen will be saying goodbye to six key LS-H senior players: Elizabeth Milam, Halle Bemmels, Kelsey Berndt, Erica Cronk, Mia Preuhs and Emily Wilke.

“We’ll miss them,” Olness said.

It was a late night for the Giants, as game two started 1 hour and 48 minutes late. But LS-H got on the scoreboard early.

Giants starting pitcher Kelsey Berndt, who suffered the tough opening-game loss, kept the Eskomos off the scoreboard all night. But the senior pitcher had to work out of a first-inning threat. Three Esko players reached, but Berndt benefited when catcher Zoe Thomson gunned down {span}Jenna Zdebski on a steal attempt.

The Giants held a slim 1-0 lead going into the top of the fourth. Erica Cronk reached on an Esko error, followed by a Rhyan Fritz single. After both moved up a base on a wild pitch, Olness came through with her first two-run single. Courtesy runner Karragen Straub eventually scored from second base on a Mia Preuhs sacrifice bunt.

Straub’s hook slide beat the throw home, but the LS-H sophomore would have been safe either way after bumping into the Esko third baseman on a play ruled interference.

It stayed that way until the seventh, with more heroics from Olness. Berndt lead off with a double. Courtesy runner Lauren Gregersen came into score following an Esko error off the bat of Olivia Fritz. Cronk then singled and Rhyan Fritz walked, setting up Olness’ second two-run single.

Berndt struck out six in six innings, giving way to eighth-grader Rhyan Fritz, who got the game’s final three outs.

Liz Milam, Rhyan Fritz and Olness paced the Giants offense with two hits apiece.

LS-H 100 300 3 — 7 11 2

Esko 000 000 0 — 0 7 3

Giants lose 4-3, 8-inning heart-breaker in opener

First-inning mistakes cost the Giants dearly in the Class AA state tournament opening game, as Thief River Falls/Goodridge scored three runs in the first and one more in the bottom of the eighth to push Le Sueur-Henderson into the consolation bracket.

The Giants tied things up with two runs in the fifth on a Halley Bemmels triple and a single run in the top of the sixth on a Rhyan Fritz RBI single.

But the Prowlers put together three eighth-inning singles, capped off by senior Breanna Wienen’s game-winner up the middle, just out of reach of Giants shortstop Liz Milam.

Still, it was the 3-0 hole that doomed the Giants, who had to fight back all game. It could have been worse, as all three came across with no outs. But Giants starting pitcher Kelsey Berndt got the final three outs, two on strikes, to get out of the inning.

Berndt settled in after that, finishing the game with eight strikeouts. But the Prowlers pitcher, senior {span}Alexa Rogalla, mixed her pitches and spots well, keeping the Giants off balance through the first four shutout innings.

In the top of the fifth, with LS-H still down 3-0, Keely Olness singled and Mia Preuhs beat out a bunt single. Bemmels then ripped a triple over the left-fielder to close it to 3-2.

The Giants tied it up in the sixth. Zoe Thomson singled and Erica Cronk reached on an error, followed by a Rhyan Fritz RBI single.

But then came the decisive eighth. Cronk kept hopes up for the Giants, making a circus catch against the fence in left field. But consecutive singles put runners at first and second. Berndt got a pop out to first base for the second out, but Wienen’s game-winning single ended the Giants’ hopes to advance on for a rematch against Minnesota River Conference rival Norwood-Young America, the tourney’s top-seeded team.

Giants 000 021 00 — 3 8 2

Prowlers 300 000 01 — 4 9 1

Reach Dana Melius at 507-931-8567.

Former Regional Managing Editor, Adams Publishing Group--Southern Minnesota/Western Division: St. Peter Herald, Waseca County News, Le Center Leader, Le Sueur News-Herald. Now serving as a freelance reporter.

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