Fresh off wrapping up a 15-win regular season, that Northfield coach Ryan Pietsch guesses is either a program record or just off the mark, the Raiders aren’t ready to stop and reflect just yet.
After Thursday’s 8-2 victory against Rochester John Marshall at Northfield High School, both Pietsch and senior Jillian Noel postponed questions about any feeling of validation for how the season’s played out so far for another couple weeks.
In other words, Class AAA No. 3-ranked Northfield is still fighting for the program’s first trip to the state tournament.
“We still want it,” Noel said. “We really, really want it, and now the playing field is 0-0, so the record doesn’t matter. We still really want it and are still hungry.”
That hunger was evident Thursday, when the Raiders (15-3, 9-2 Big 9 Conference) pounced on the Rockets (13-5, 9-5) by tallying four runs through its first four batters, capped off by junior Anne Fossum’s two-run homer to right center. That was more than enough run support for sophomore Brynn Hostettler, who allowed one run in six innings in the circle while striking out 15, before senior Caroline Pritchard allowed one run in the seventh and struck out three.
The homer was Fossum’s third in the last week after previously not sending one over the wall this season. During the search for that first homer, which frustrated Fossum, Pietsch assured her it was imminent.
“Sure enough, the past couple weeks she’s got three home runs and had a couple off the fence as well,” Pietsch said. “She’s an important part of our lineup, and she was hitting well prior to that. She just wasn’t getting the home runs.”
Fossum’s emergence in the middle of Northfield’s lineup has mirrored Noel’s, who bats a spot ahead of Fossum in the No. 3 spot. After homering in a season-opening 6-5 win at Farmington, Noel recorded only two extra-base hits, both doubles, over the next eight games.
Then, Noel started spending ample time away from practice honing her swing, which has resulted in eight extra-base hits in the last nine games, including three homers over that span as well as an RBI double in Thursday’s win.
“I’m really just thinking about hitting the ball hard, and I think I’ve done really good with that,” Noel said.
That was evident in her final at-bat of the day, when she scorched a line drive, likely no more 15 or 20 feet off the ground, that would have been another double if not for a running grab from Rochester John Marshall center fielder Gina Pula.
In Monday’s 11-0, five-inning win at Class AAA No. 4-ranked Winona, Noel laced an RBI double while Fossum racked up three hits, including another homer, to help Northfield race past its biggest competition in Section 1AAA.
The Raiders earned the top seed in the Section 1AAA tournament, with the Winhawks on the other side of the bracket as the No. 2 seed. In the double-elimination format, Northfield recieved a first-round bye and will start its postseason Thursday afternoon at Austin Todd Park against the winner of Tuesday’s first-round matchup between Austin and Red Wing.
“We saw in Winona what this team is capable of when we put all aspects of the game together, and tonight was another night where we were firing on all cylinders,” Pietsch said. “We had great pitching, obviously, great hitting, great baserunning and solid defense when we needed it. It was a great way to end the regular season, and hopefully we can continue this momentum into playoffs next week.”