There might not be a team in the state of Minnesota as hot as Northfield softball is entering the postseason.
After Friday’s 2-0 victory against Class AAA No. 1 Mankato West, the Class AAAA No. 7 Raiders (17-2) have won their last 16 games in a row. A victory in the regular-season finale Thursday at Albert Lea (4-12) also wraps up the program’s first outright Big 9 Conference championship.
In the span of nine days — Thursday, May 13 through Friday, May 21 — Northfield beat Mankato West (14-3) and Class AAA No. 6 Winona (14-4), as well as two of the most likely teams to challenge it in Section 1-4A in Farmington (8-9) and New Prague (12-6).
“Obviously we were excited to get this game rescheduled for the end of the year because we want to play top teams heading into sections,” Northfield coach Ryan Pietsch said about the Mankato West game. “We were able to do that today. The girls are playing great right now and we want to keep getting better every day and ultimately be playing our best softball of the year come section time.”
If the 13-0 win against New Prague and 2-0 victory against Farmington cemented the Raiders as the favorite and top seed in Section 1-4A, Friday’s triumph against Mankato West served as a reminder that Northfield is fully capable of contending for the program’s second consecutive state title, even if it needs to come in Class AAAA instead of Class AAA, like in 2019.
“I was proud of the girls tonight,” Pietsch said. “Mankato West is a tough team and they’re ranked No. 1 in the state right now in Class AAA, so you always know when you play them that they’re going to be competitive and they’re going to be solid because they are every year.”
The Raiders received the same lights-out pitching senior Brynn Hostettler typically delivers in the win Friday: the right-hander allowed only three hits and three walks while striking out 14 batters.
Northfield was lifted offensively by senior Mikaela Girard, who is quickly turning into a player that’s capable of and eager to deliver against top competition.
After her two-RBI single in the bottom of the fifth provided all of Friday’s offense, Girard is a combined 10-for-22 with three home runs, 10 RBIs, seven runs scored and five walks in eight games against Eastview, Class AAAA No. 5 Chanhassen, Mankato West, Class AAA No. 3 Mankato East, Winona, New Prague and Farmington.
Moving into next week’s Section 1-4A tournament and beyond, Girard and the Raiders will face plenty of top pitching. While Northfield has played and beaten nearly every other team in the section, it has yet to face off against a Lakeville North team that swept Eastview, a team which beat Northfield 9-2 in the second game of the season.
The Raiders likely still have enough ammunition in their 16-game winning streak to beat out the Panthers (10-4) for the section’s top seed, but the section championship is still far from decided entering the postseason.
“I think the kids are playing with confidence and they should be,” Pietsch said. “They put in a ton of time in the offseason and practice every day so they should be playing with confidence. They’re a good team, but we just have to come ready to play come playoff time no matter who the team is.”