The senior-laden St. Peter softball team celebrated its eight experienced leaders Tuesday night, as the Saints welcomed the conference leading New Ulm Eagles to Jefferson Fields.
The pregame fireworks continued early for St. Peter as the team jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, but New Ulm made a pitching change early on that cooled off the hot start and allowed the Eagles to claw their way back into the game and hand the Saints a 5-4 defeat.
With the loss, the Saints fall to 8-3 (4-3 BSW) while the Eagles improve to 11-3 (8-0 BSW).
The eight seniors for St. Peter, Lilly Ruffin (first base), Grace Remmert (shortstop), McKenna Van Zee (centerfield), Makayla Moline (second base), Sophia Doherty (third base), Mackenzie Pettis (right field), Molly Voeltz (designated player) and Dani Johnson (left field), were all in the starting lineup with junior pitcher Maya Pettis in the circle and freshman Nora Whipps catching.
There was excitement in the top of the first inning when New Ulm put a runner at first with a one-out single, but the following batter hit a pop-up to second baseman Makayla Moline, who quickly transitioned the catch to a throw to first in time for the inning-ending double play.
In the bottom of the first, Dani Johnson led off with a powerful shot to shortstop that was bobbled, allowing her to reach first, and Grace Remmert followed that up with a base on balls. With McKenna Van Zee batting, a pitch went wild and allowed Johnson and Remmert to advance and Van Zee cashed them in with a single to shallow center field.
In an interesting move, the Eagles made a pitching change mid at-bat for Lilly Ruffin after she just narrowly fouled off a ball to deep right field. The new pitcher allowed a single in the gap but began getting outs, forcing a groundout and strikeout before catcher Nora Whipps brought home Van Zee and Ruffin with a single into right field, putting St. Peter up 4-0.
In the top of the second, the Eagles began a trend of hitting the ball into shallow gaps in the outfield that were consistently out of reach of the defenders and with two runners on, a New Ulm batter smashed a two-run double into deep right field to cut the Saints lead to 4-2. Another strange trend began in the bottom of the second with St. Peter hitters putting the ball in play, but four of the next seven hitters sent the ball directly to the relief pitcher who consistently fielder her position and converted outs.
The Eagles continued to dig into the lead with a run in the third before tying the game at 4-4 with an RBI double in the top of the fifth. After going down in order in the bottom of the fifth, Remmert made another huge defensive play for the Saints when she dove for a liner and was able to make the grab and the out followed by a pair of deep flyouts to keep things squared up.
St. Peter followed up the good defensive showing when Sophia Doherty led off with a single to right field, and, on a wild pitch, advanced to second before the throwback to the pitcher went wide, allowing her to reach third with no outs. The next ball was put into play, and the second baseman made the choice to go for the play at home with Doherty charging.
The throw was completely on time and on the money, as the catcher set herself up for the tag when Doherty went airborne in an attempt to clear it and reach back for the base. While the initial leap cleared the catcher’s tag attempt, as Doherty reached for the plate the catcher was able to get the glove and ball on her shoulder a split-second before she reached the bag.
The next play resulted in a fielder’s choice out at second before a shallow pop out to right ended the sixth.
In the top of the seventh, The Eagles drew a leadoff walk before a perfectly placed bunt resulted in a single. The next batter put a bunt in play but Doherty was able to come up from third and make the throw and out at first despite runners advancing to second and third. The next at-bat resulted in a shallow fly ball to right field that Mackenzie Pettis was able to catch cleanly while freezing the runner at third and getting the ball back into the infield quickly.
New Ulm, with two out and runners at second and third, was able to get just enough luck as a pitch got loose and made its way to the backstop which allowed the runner at third to score and the Eagles to take a 5-4 lead.
Trailing for the first time, St. Peter needed something, but the first two batters popped up for outs and the final at-bat resulted in a strikeout looking on an absolutely nasty pitch from the New Ulm reliever.
The Saints will return to action Thursday, May 12 when they host the Tri-City United Titans with first pitch scheduled at 4:30 p.m.