REDWOOD FALLS — The Mankato West Scarlets hadn’t won a set against a Marshall softball team since 2001 heading into Tuesday’s Section 2AAA championship. That didn’t change as the top-seeded Tigers beat the Scarlets in straight sets to advance to their sixth straight state tournament.
“Being a seed and having the regular season we’ve had, we should come in with some confidence and be ready to go.” “Marshall” head coach Dan Westby said. “It seemed to me that everything was difficult in the first set. Mankato West has been playing well lately, so I’m sure they came into it with the mindset of, ‘Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing,’ and they were able to carry the game. Like I said, it was really hard to get much.”
Mankato West gave the Tigers trouble, taking a 3-0 lead early in the first set before Brooke Gillingham’s layup gave the Tigers their first point of the match. The Tigers gave the Reds another point before a Mackenzie Olsen block gave Marshall their first lead of the game and a pair of service aces from Brielle Riess put the Tigers up 7-4.
Reese Drake got off to a hot start to help the Tigers take the first set. She had a team-high 6 kills in the first set and finished with 11 on the night.
“I think behind the service line we put a lot of pressure on them and that helped get our offense quicker to allow Brooke to get us a good, hitable ball.” Drake said.
Mankato West called its second timeout of the set trailing 23-16, but Marshall couldn’t stop its momentum. Avery Fahl had a kill and combined for a block with Gillingham to claim the first set for the Tigers, 25-16.
“I felt like that first set was kind of a grind the whole way and our kids found a way.” Westby said. “I thought about all three of our sophomores [Drake, Gillingham and Fahl] It was a really good game tonight… At that point, every point was very contested and we just felt like we didn’t have a lot of rhythm early on.”
Marshall softball players and managers pose for a photo after receiving their Section 2AAA Championship plaques and medals.
As in the first set, the Scarlets won the first point of the second on a Marshall hitting error. The lead didn’t last long; A Mankato West hitting error and kill by Riess and Olsen put Marshall back in the driver’s seat. Riess was responsible for three kills that helped Marshall take a 5-1 lead and end the set with just seven. She led the team with 15 kills in the match after being held to three in the first frame.
“Just noticing what their defense is doing, learning from my mistakes and mistakes and then working with the team as we gain momentum,” Riess said his efficiency increased as the match progressed.
Despite this, the Scarlets did not back down. They went on a 5-1 run of their own to turn the match around before kills by Morgan Bjella and Reese Drake helped Marshall quickly regain the lead.
The Tigers’ lead quickly grew to 19-9 before Mankato West called its first timeout. Once again, Marshall’s momentum was unstoppable as they closed out the set with a 6-2 run to win 25-11.
Libero Kennedy Drake once again led the Marshall back line with 20 digs. She was also 12-of-12 at the service line, making her one of three Tigers with a perfect service night, along with Reese Drake (13-of-13) and Jayda Bednarek (11-of-11).
Bednarek, Gillingham and Riess also added 12 digs on defense for the Tigers, while Gillingham also added 32 set assists.
Riess started the third firing with three kills in the first four Marshall points to help Marshall take a 4-1 lead — Fahl was responsible for the other. Again, Mankato West responded with a 3-0 run to tie the game at 4-4.
The set didn’t stay closed for long. Bjella had a kill and a block while Reese Drake had a kill to give the Tigers a quick 8-5 lead. The lead only continued to expand until Riess’ third service ace of the match forced the Scarlets to call a timeout with Marshall leading 18-11.
“We knew in practice that their outside hitter was going to be good, so we worked hard on that and we were ready to do it.” Bjella said the tigers were effectively blocked at night.
Marshall was up by nine points, 23-14, as Mankato West called its final timeout with its season on the line. Again, a Scarlets hitting error and a Reese Drake kill ended the match in a 25-14 Tiger victory.
With the win, Marshall advances to its sixth straight state championship. The last time the Tigers lost in the sectional championship game was a 3-0 loss to Class AAAA runner-up Prior Lake in 2016.
“We just have to take it game by game, one game at a time, and really focus on the first game and build on that.” Reese Drake said.
Members of the Marshall softball team celebrate the Tigers’ final score of the team’s 3-0 win over Mankato West on Tuesday at Redwood Valley High School.
Marshall still has a lot of its game to clean up before the state tournament, Westby said, but said they will try to clean up any mistakes in the week before they head to states.
“When we go down there, it’s a business trip, not a vacation.” Westby said. “We have to go down there and prepare ourselves for the first game. We will take it one by one.”