Dreams really do come true. Tears were shed and the crowd cheered on Wednesday afternoon as the Minnesota State High School League honored the latest state softball championship team: the Le Sueur-Henderson Giants.
The Giants wore gold medals around their necks and lifted the state championship trophy high after conquering their toughest and most important game of the season. One wrong play and the game could have gone to No. 3 seed and runner-up St. Charles. But with cool heads, perseverance and some risky plays that paid off, the Giants earned their championship trophy through a 7-4 victory.
The moment will go down not just in the minds of the players, coaches and the crowd of supporters overflowing the bleachers, it will also be etched into Le Sueur-Henderson history. The Giants 2021 roster was the first LS-H softball team to ever win the state championship.
“It’s something we’ve talked about forever, but we were never sure that it could happen,” said Coach Eric Lewis. “You’ve got to have some good players and you got to have some luck. Today, we got some luck. We have a bunch of players that have been with us for years. We have so many great parents that catch pitch after pitch after pitch and drive their kids to tournaments in the winter training. It’s great.”
“Last night, we watched [St. Charles] play. They’re a great team, they do some really great things, but we’ve got kids that we’re so confident in,” said Coach Anne Lewis. “At first you’re nervous because you want it so bad for the kids, but we felt good coming into this game and we knew if the kids played Giants softball they would come out on top.”
The victory required a great deal of precision for the Giants to pull off. St. Charles demonstrated their strength from the top of the first inning. The first batter to step up to the plate launched a home run. LS-H kept St. Charles from scoring the rest of the inning after first baseman Makenna Borchardt caught a pop out and pitcher Chloe Brandt threw two strikeouts.
Brandt’s pitching was a key to the Giants’ success. Of the 33 batters, Brandt faced over seven innings, the sophomore struck out 13 while giving up nine hits.
The Giants’ top scorer was Halle Bemmels who went three for three and collected three runs. Chloe Brandt collected two runs and one RBI. Rhyan Fritz picked up a run and two RBIs and Morgan Gregersen contributed one run. Olivia Fritz went three for three at bat and led the team in RBIs with three.
When it was the Giants’ time to bat in the bottom of the first, they didn’t waste time earning the lead. Halle Bemmels opened with a walk and stole second base. Determined to help Bemmels score at any cost, Chloe Brandt bunted the Giant to third but successfully reached first base on an error. Rhyan Fritz knocked Bemmels in with a sacrifice fly and tied the game 1-1.
Zoe Thomson then walked to first and swapped with courtesy runner Morgan Gregersen. Olivia Fritz followed up and sent the Giants into the lead with a deep double that almost cleared the fence; it knocked in Brandt and Gregersen, giving the Giants a 3-1 lead.
The Giants were on a roll over the next couple innings. While they didn’t score in the second, they took out St. Charles 1-2-3 in the second and third innings. Still holding the lead, LS-H added another run in the fourth, as Rhyan Fritz walked, ran to second on a ground out and reached home on a line drive to left field by Olivia Fritz.
The Giants held St. Charles scoreless again in the fourth. Catcher Zoe Thomson ran to catch a pop fly and shortstop Rhyan Fritz dived with her belly on the ground to catch a second fly ball. St. Charles doubled, but Chloe Brandt stymied their advance with a strikeout.
The Giants hit another stride in the bottom of the fourth. After suffering two ground outs, the Giants bounced back with Bemmels doubling and scoring on a double by Brandt. Rhyan Fritz singled in Brandt and put the Giants up 6-1.
But the Giants couldn’t relax just yet. At the top of the fifth inning, St. Charles rebounded and threatened to take the lead for themselves. The Saints led with a single and a hit by pitch and then batted in both players on a single and a double. With a walk the Saints loaded up the bases.
With the score now at 6-3, the next St. Charles batter smacked a fly ball deep into center field, a nervy moment for LS-H. The orange-clad crowd erupted with cheering as St. Charles expected to tie the game or even take the lead.
The Saints were heading for home, but center fielder Halle Bemmels darted after the ball. With extraordinary speed, Bemmels jumped into the air and caught it, ending the inning and preserving the Giants 6-3 lead. Without that catch, the Giants could have walked away with silver medals.
“Thank goodness she’s as fast as she is,” said Eric Lewis. “She saved to day. Tehre’s numerous times over the past four years where a ball goes into center field and we’ll say ‘Halle,’ just knowing that she’ll get it. That one was hit and it wasn’t one we thought she could get to. I don;t know if she thought she could get to it, but thank goodness she’s as fast as she is.”
The Giants were safe, but only for so long. And the game stretched on, St. Charles was putting up a tougher fight. In the bottom of the fifth, the Saints knocked out LS-H 1-2-3. The Giants collected a run in the sixth, but just barely. After the Saints struck out the first LS-H batter, Bemmels singled and advanced to second on an error. Bemmels ran to third on a ground out and scored on a wild pitch just before the inning ended on a line out.
Heading into the top of the seventh inning, LS-H was up 7-3. The Giants held the advantage and just needed to hang on to the lead by the time the inning was up. If they failed, LS-H still had an opportunity to score in the bottom.
But preserving their lead was easier said than done. With the pressure on, St. Charles struck back and loaded up the bases with with a walk, two singles and zero outs. The Saints then batted in a run on a single and narrowed the gap 7-4 with no outs and three batters on base.
The Le Sueur-Henderson coaches came out to give their squad a pause, knowing that St. Charles had a good opportunity to come back from the brink. The Giants needed to be at the top of their game to keep the lead.
“It was the state championship, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Eric Lewis. “We told them to you have to make a play. Let’s get an out. They looked at each other, took a deep breath and gave each other some encouraging words and away we go.”
Chloe Brandt followed up and struck out a batter. The Giants needed just two more outs. The next batter stepped up to the plate and hit a foul that careened over the fence. She hit another ball into foul territory, but Olivia Fritz was on it and caught the pop out. The Giants needed just one more out. Brandt pitched a foul, then a ball and another foul. Then in one final pitch, Brandt threw a third strike. The inning was over, the crowd erupted and the Giants ran out from the bench to embrace their teammates.
They had made history.