Viking softball comes to a close

NB falls to top-seeded Anoka and Chisago Lakes in sections

Despite elimination on Saturday afternoon, the North Branch softball team met its goal of finishing among the final eight teams in Section 7AAA, host to reigning state champions Elk River and third-place state team, Forest Lake.

The ninth-seeded Vikings opened the postseason last Tuesday with a 12-9 win over eighth-seeded Grand Rapids on the road in what head coach Ron Trunk called a “wild, ugly affair.”

North Branch was in trouble early. In the bottom of the second inning, the Thunderhawks hit the scoreboard first following a solo home run, then a three-run long shot later on to take a 5-0 lead.

The Vikings answered in the top of the third inning with six runs to go ahead following a series of troubled pitching and fielding errors by the host team. They extended their lead in the fifth inning with two runs to go ahead 8-5. But Grand Rapids wasn’t done yet. The Thunderhawks ripped a pinch-hit grand slam to take back the lead, 9-8, in the bottom of the fifth inning.

During the Viking’s next turn at the plate, they capped the scoring and sealed the win when junior Kelsey Laffin reached base on error, then junior Paige Yoch drew a walk. Junior Hannah Hubbard, sophomore Jaci Bossard and senior Kelsey Lofboom strung together a series of base hits to score four runs, winning 12-9.

Lofboom earned the win on the mound with five strikeouts and just one walk.

Bossard led the offense, going 3-5 with three RBIs, followed by Hubbard, who went 2-4 with two RBIs. Senior Mikayla Carlson added one RBI while going 2-4.

The Vikings moved on to face top-seeded Anoka on Saturday in Andover. North Branch lost its first section game of the double-elimination tournament, 4-0, to the Tornadoes.

Though the Vikings couldn’t get anything going offensively, Lofboom worked hard from the mound to hold Anoka to just four runs, given they averaged 10 runs per game in the regular season. Lofboom pitched six innings, giving up five hits and recording one strikeout. All four runs were unearned.

“I thought Kaylee pitched really, really well against a good offensive team,” Trunk said. “She really kept them off balance.”

North Branch closed its 2014 season when they ran into Chisago Lakes in an elimination game on Saturday afternoon. The Vikings lost 9-3.

Lofboom pitched again, but was unable to stem the Wildcat offense, which scored two runs in the first inning, five in the second and one run in both the fourth and fifth innings.

The Vikings totaled just four hits, led by Laffin with two hits while Lofboom and Hubbard both earned one hit apiece.

Trunk said his squad struggled defensively by committing five errors to give Chisago Lakes six unearned runs.

North Branch closed its season at 10-12 overall and 4-9 in their debut in the Mississippi 8 Conference.

Trunk said the new conference was a good warm-up for his team’s tough section opponents.

“It’s very competitive, which is great for us in getting ready for the postseason,” he said. “The only downside is the additional travel. That’s an added challenge given our extended school days — it’s tough on the girls. But that won’t be as much of a problem next year with us going back to five-day school weeks.”

The Vikings will graduate three seniors from its squad this season: Lofboom, Carlson and senior outfielder Casey Hovland.

“I told them last Friday, our last day of practice, that they have all been strong contributors to this program,” Trunk said. “Kelsey, Mikayla and Casey were always the first to practice and the last to leave.”

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