Right after the Clippers girls fell by a run to Springfield on Thursday, Delaney Thompson and her dad Matt took the field with a 5-gallon pail filled to the brim with neon yellow softballs.
For head coach Mike Barten, it was hard not to notice the eighth-grade pitcher’s added effort, especially since she didn’t even have a role in the Clippers’ first two section games.
“You lose a game, and five minutes later you’ve got a girl out there practicing.”
While Thompson's work ethic impressed her coach, it had an even bigger impact when the Clippers advanced to Caswell Park on Saturday in elimination play.
Stepping into the circle in the top of the sixth, when the Clippers were training Nicollet 4-3, she went on to earn the win in a 7-5 victory.
Sticking with Thompson’s hot hand 20 minutes later, Barten penciled her in to start the next game, where she lasted six and a third innings versus Sleepy Eye, departed for the next five batters but reentered in the same inning and went the rest of the way in a 10-7 Clipper triumph.
It equals the furthest the Clippers have progressed in the section tournament since they went independent in 2012. In an elimination game in the playback bracket, they will have a chance to avenge a narrow second-round loss to Springfield tomorrow (Tuesday) at 5:00.
“Delaney did an awesome job in tough circumstances,” said Barten. “In a section elimination game, to come in and battle the nerves and battle a tight strike zone was dang good.”
Both games could have easily gone south, but the Clippers were the Clippers at the plate, coming through with their sticks to support the pitching and seize the wins.
“The bats. You know they’re going to come,” Barten said. “So whether it gets down to one or two runs or is tied or you get behind, I have faith that the girls are going to hit the ball, and they are starting to believe it themselves.”
Top-of-the-order Sophie Shouler cracked a double in the bottom of the first against Nicollet, purloined third and scored on a Lexy Waldron single.
The Clippers took a 3-0 lead in the second when Kaylee Karels walked and scored when the pitcher threw Keira Schipper’s bunt high up and over first base. Schipper reached second on the play, moved to third on a passed ball and scored when the Raiders threw down to first on Cassandra Connor third-strike passed ball.
But the Raiders, who the Clippers pounded 16-0 during the regular season, took a 4-3 lead after scoring two runs in the fourth—on a single, a walk, a Clipper error and a two-RBI single—and two more runs in the fifth—on a single, a walk and a two-RBI double.
The Clippers left a pair of runners in scoring position twice: in the third inning with no outs and again in the fourth inning with one out.
“It was like on Thursday (against Springfield), where we hit a lot of fly balls and needed to make that adjustment, especially with what the wind was doing today,” Barten said.
But all game long, the Clipper bats were waiting to detonate, and they finally did in the sixth when Karels’ grounder up the middle was good for a single. She crossed the plate when Schipper smacked a line drive to the left field fence that was good for two bases.
Pinch hitting for Cassandra Connor, Katelyn Flowers, up from junior high, followed with a double.
“She’s the future,” Barten said about the eighth grader. “So we might as well give her a chance.”
Schipper, an eighth grader herself, crossed the plate on a Greta Hahn ground out. Breaking out of a slump, Emma Sweere hit a hard line drive that scored Flowers. Back at the top of the order, Shouler dropped a hit into right field to score Sweere from first, and the Clippers were suddenly back in front, 7-4.
“Emma did some great base running, and I think the run kind of eased the girls, made them a little more comfortable going into the seventh on defense,” Barten said.
With two outs, Nicollet strung together a trio of hits in the seventh to score a run, but the next batter grounded to shortstop Shouler, who made the throw to Laci Hollerich at first in time for the final out.
The Clippers struck out five times, walked four times and came up with seven hits. Shouler scattered three singles Schipper and Flowers each had a double. Karels and Sweere each had one single.
Hailey Plonsky got the start. She allowed four hits, struck out one and walked two. Thompson gave up three hits and walked one.
The Raiders committed one error, one less than the Clippers.
Vs Sleepy Eye
Thompson got off to a bit of a rough start against Sleepy Eye, but it didn’t have a ton to do with how she worked the strike zone.
She gave the first batter a free pass. After fielding the ensuing bunt, Thompson’s easy throw to first was wide, and the on runner scored on the play. The next batter grounded out, moving the runner from second to third. Thompson fielded another comebacker from the fourth batter she faced. She made the play at first but didn’t check the runner on third, and the Indians went in front 2-0.
But after giving up another walk, Thompson caught the next batter looking. The strikeout not only ended the frame, it reassured Thompson she was up for the task.
“It helped a lot. It helped me get my confidence back.”
Her teammates had Thompson’s back too. Shouler got on an infield error. Karels also hit into an error when the Indians let her looper drop into short left field. Cassandra Connor singled to load the bases, and Waldron found some vacant real estate in left field to bring Shouler home.
After Karels crossed the plate on an errant pitch, Schipper rocketed a double to deep center field for two more runs and got a free pass home after Sweere got hit by a pitch and Harley Connor and Shouler both walked to put the Clippers in front 5-2. With the bases loaded and just one out, they were a swing away from more runs, but a couple of strikeouts ended the inning.
Cassandra Connor led off the second with a walk Waldron hit into a fielder’s choice, stole second, took third on a passed ball and scored on a Schipper single for a 6-2 Clipper lead. Again they left a trio of runners marooned on base.
The Indians posted another run in the third on a walk, a sacrifice bunt that got the runner to third and a sacrifice fly, but the Clippers stuffed their lead with four more runs in the fourth.
In her third hit of the game, Schipper led off the frame with a single and stole second. Harley Conner singled. Pinch running, Flowers made the easy steal. Hahn singled too for two RBIs. Back at the top of the sequence, Shoulder’s single scored Schipper and put the Clippers ahead 9-3.
Schipper made a nice grab on a line drive to third for the first out in the top of the sixth, but on a pair of walks and a looper that confounded the Clipper infielders, the Indians loaded the bases, and Thompson exited.
“I was a little upset. I thought I could have done better. I think the zone was the small, and I needed to find the spots, and I didn’t,” she said.
In a hard-luck effort, Lilly Lamont took the circle, but the first batter she faced singled for two runs. The next runner, who made it to third on the last play because the Clippers overthrew the cut, scored on a sacrifice fly.
The next batter singled, and, with Lamont not finding the small strike zone, the following two batters walked to load the bases.
That was all for Lamont, and with two outs, Thompson re-entered and made a clean throw to first on a comebacker to limit the damage, but the Clipper lead dwindled to only two, 9-7.
Lamont wasn't happy with her performance, but Barten said she was in a tough spot and got an out the Clippers needed.
“The strike zone was maybe a little tight, but the girls didn’t give up. We could have hung our heads, but the pitchers just kept battling. I thought our pitchers were outstanding today.”
Shouler led off the sixth with a double, moved to third on an errant pitch and scored on a Waldron sacrifice fly to give the Clippers a little more breathing room.
In the top of the seventh, Thompson whiffed the first batter and got the second batter to ground out to Shouler. The third batter got on when Thompson didn’t get to a slow roller in time, but the Clippers won the game when the eighth grader got the final batter to sky to Flowers, who was in at second for the injured Hahn.
Thompson walked seven, fanned four and gave up just two hits.
The Clippers whiffed six times and took advantage of a dozen hits, six free passes and three errors, one less than the Clippers committed.
Schipper was three for four at the plate. Shouler had a double and a single and one walk. Waldron hit two singles. Cassandra Connor had two singles and walked twice. Her cousin Harley had one single and walked three times. Hahn had one single. Sweere had one single.
Sweere said neither her or her teammates expected the Clippers to make a playoff run this deep.
“It’s amazing. I had us doing it in volleyball, but I would have never had us doing it in softball. It’s totally a shocker to all of us, I’m not going to lie, but we put in the effort; we put in the work.”
“Live to see Tuesday. How awesome is that?” Barten said. “There’s 24 teams left in the state, and we’re one of them, so that’s all you can ask.”
In 2018 the Clippers also made a playoff run when they won a home game, split in the first day at Caswell and then lost to SESM in the second day.
McKenna Robb was the ace then. Also in the starting lineup were Brianna Connor(sister of Cassandra), Julia McCabe (sister of Mariah McCabe and Lacey McCabe), Lily Hollerich and Lexi Hollerich (sisters of Laci), Lexi Hollerich, Karna Ziebarth, Joie Weller, Allison Schmoll, Katelyn McCabe and Sydney Klingel. Emma Hahn (sister of Greta and the injured Ava Hahn) was also on that team as was Halle McCabe (sister of Julia, Lacey and Mariah).
The winner of Springfield vs Cleveland takes on New Ulm Cathedral at 7:00 pm on Tuesday. Both games are at Caswell.
Above: Shortstop Sophie Shouler holds back pitcher Hailey Plonsky as Greta Hahn picks up a hit ball between first and second.
Delaney Thompson was thrust into a difficult situation but came through with a pair of wins.
With hits in both games, Emma Sweere kick started her bat.
Kaylee Karels readies for a scoop in center field against Nicollet.
Kaitlyn Flowers rounds first on her way to a double against Nicollet.
Greta Hahn positions for a scoop while a Nicollet runner goes by.
Sophie Shouler made the last out against Nicollet.
Laci Hollerich catches a throw at first in front of a Sleepy Eye runner.
Greta Hahn on the textbook slide during the Sleepy Eye game.
One of four teams left in the section, the Clippers have lived up to their seeding.