New York Mills repeats as state softball champions
NORTH MANKATO, Minn.—Over the last six years, New York Mills softball coach Bryan Dunrud has worked tirelessly to establish a winning culture within walls of his program.
Sure, the six straight trips to the Class 1A state tournament speak for themselves. Perhaps more importantly to Dunrud, though, is the fact that the group has forged an unbreakable bond along the way.
"They really do feel like a second family to me," Dunrud said earlier this week. "It's been a crazy ride."
Because of that, the Class 1A championship game was always going to be hard. It marked the last time five members of the family—seniors Rhiana Roberts, Anna Carlson, Allison Stafki, Kaitlyn Kane, and Kassidy Steinbach—were going to share the same field as their teammates.
"These girls are like my sisters," Roberts said. "It still hasn't hit me yet that it's over. There's no group I'd rather have been a part of these last six years."
While nothing could prepare the players for the flood of emotions that came afterward, going out on top made it a little easier to stomach.
New York Mills repeated as Class 1A champions on Friday afternoon at Caswell Park with a 9-6 win over Edgerton-Southwest Minnesota Christian.
"This is a special group," Dunrud said. "We hadn't been able to turn that corner until this group showed up. It goes back to trying to take a step every year and we've been able to do that. I'm very fortunate to be a part of it."
Roberts, who has played in six straight Class 1A state tournaments, saved her best for last, tossing her third straight complete game, while going 3-for-4 at the plate in the final game of her illustrious career.
Besides that, the Eagles relied on their bats like they have throughout this miraculous two-year run.
Kane chipped in with three runs batted in, while sophomores Tiffany Thompson and Karli Kawlewski also starred with three hits apiece.
In the end, the offensive productive was enough despite the fact that Edgerton-Southwest Minnesota Christian made a furious charge in the seventh inning, plating five runs to make things interesting down the stretch.
As special as the repeat run was, it almost never happened as the Eagles were forced to overcome a three-run deficit in a quarterfinal matchup with Hayfield, scoring four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to earn a dramatic 6-5 win. They carried that momentum into a semifinal matchup against with Randolph, earning a rather low-stress 5-3 win to advance.
After that, nothing was going to stop New York Mills and it capped the week on a high note.
"It's been tough to know that this was my last game," Carlson said. "I wouldn't have wanted to end it any other way."
As for whether the moment was bittersweet, knowing five members of the family were moving on to bigger and better things, Dunrud was clear that it was quite the contrary.
"It's not because we know they're ready," Dunrud said. "We have given them everything we can give them. You know, they're a great group of kids and they're going to do great things. I'm just happy for them that in their last game they ended as well as they could. I'm just thankful to be a part of it."