Avery Steffen throws a pitch during the Section 1AA championship game against St. Charles on June 10, 2021 at Todd Park in Austin. Jake Pfeifer / Republican Eagle

A loss to St. Charles in the Section 1AA winner’s bracket semifinals proved to be a costly outcome because now Zumbrota-Mazeppa needed to defeat the Saints twice to win the section title. The Cougars won the first game Thursday at Todd Park in Austin, but the second game ended just out of their reach and a promising season fell just short of the preseason goal of making the state tournament.

The first game of the day, originally scheduled for 5 p.m. but delayed an hour due to heat, was complete domination by Z-M star senior Avery Steffen. She was in the circle for every pitch in both games, but was particularly stout in game one. Steffen pitched a complete-game shutout while allowing just one hit in the Cougars 4-0 game one victory.

Steffen’s pitching prowess was necessary too, since Z-M didn’t score its first run until the fifth inning. In that inning, a leadoff walk by Gracie Flicek and single by Tenlee Magnuson on what was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt attempt put two runners on with no outs. Steffen stepped into the box and reached on an error that also scored Flicek. In the next at bat Lola Wagner ripped a double to score two more runs.

The Cougars’ 3-0 lead held until the seventh inning when Steffen led off with a triple, was pinch runned by Taylor Chapa who proceeded to score two at bats later to complete the win for Z-M.

With a late start to the first game, it meant that game two didn’t start until 8:30 p.m. but neither the heat or tension had left the field since that first pitch was thrown. Z-M jumped out to an early 1-0 lead when Sydney Higley smacked a double to score Steffen. Two innings later Matti Stensland lined a single to score Steffen a second time and put Z-M up 2-0 with momentum building.

That momentum was quickly sapped in the bottom half of the inning though once St. Charles scored three runs to take the lead. Z-M stranded a St. Charles runner at third to end the inning, but after three quick outs by the Cougars, the Saints loaded the bases once again in the fourth inning. Steffen masterfully worked out of the jam but Z-M was running out of innings and were still trailing by one run. Steffen reached base for the third time in the game in the fifth inning and proceeded to steal second base to get into scoring position but was left stranded there. Down to their last out in the seventh inning, St. Charles intentionally walked Steffen who had up to that point reached base in every at bat — five of which led to her reaching at least second base. The risky maneuver paid off for the Saints though as they were able to snag a liner by Wagner in the next at bat to claim their first section title and end Z-M’s season.

Pitching stats (both games combined): Steffen (13 IP, 18 K, 5 BB, 9 H, 3 ER)

Batting stats: Steffen (5 H, 1 RBI, 3 R, 1 3B, 3 2B, 2 BB, 2 SB), Wagner (2 RBI, 1 2B, 1 SB), Higley (2 H, 1 RBI, 1 2B), Stensland (2 H, 1 RBI), Ri Buck (1 H), Addie Voxland (2 H), Flicek (1 H, 1 R, 2 BB), Magnuson (1 H, 1 R), Chapa (1 R)

Z-M ends its season with a 20-5 record.

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