"We did it! We're going to Mankato!"
Those were the exultant sentiments of Hopkins first baseman Allison Schaefer as the Hopkins softball team is heading back to the Class AAA state tournament for the third time in four years.
Schaefer played a critical role for the Royals, who defeated Lake Conference rival Wayzata in back-to-back games for the Section 6AAA championship on Thursday afternoon at Richfield Middle School.
Hopkins, emerging from the one-loss bracket, needed to defeat Wayzata twice after the Trojans had topped the Royals, 10-1, on Tuesday in the winner's bracket final.
Wayzata held a 2-0 lead on Hopkins into the sixth inning of Game 1 of the championship showdown before the Royals rallied to claim a 3-2 victory.
The Trojans had dominated the contest over the first five innings as Hopkins remained hitless until the bottom of the fourth inning when Kim Lidstone logged the Royals' first single on a bunt.
The fortunes changed for both teams in the sixth as Lidstone again reached on a one-out infield single and stole second base before being driven home on a single from Morgan Nybo to put Hopkins on the board.
However, the Royals were far from done in the frame.
The next batter, Abby Whritenour, was hit by a pitch to put two aboard as Schaefer strode to the plate with Whritenour at first base and Heidi Feldseth—pinch-running for Nybo—at third.
With one swing of the bat, Schaefer altered the course of her team's destiny by scorching a two-run double to the fence to plate both baserunners and set off a jubilant celebration on the Royals' side of the field.
Hopkins may have needed more runs had it not been for a critical defensive set of plays in the top of the fifth inning in which the Royals turned a double play by tagging out Wayzata runners heading to both home plate and third base to end the frame down just 2-0 instead of facing a two-run deficit with two in scoring position and just one out.
As it was, three runs was enough for the Royals as Nybo, who had grown stronger off the pitching rubber as the game wore on and struck out 10 batters over the two games, set Wayzata down without incident in the top of the seventh to clinch the one-run victory for Hopkins.
Granted new life, Hopkins needed no such dramatics in Game 2, taking a 3-0 lead in the first inning—with two runs scored on a Schaefer single—and never looking back en route to a 9-2 victory that clinched the 6AAA crown for coach Anne Campbell's squad.
Wayzata, visibly gutted after its sudden loss in Game 1, was a shell of its former self as the Royals came perilously close to claiming victory by the ten-run rule before settling for the seven-run triumph in a contest that included a solo home run by Maddy Bauer in the second inning.
The Royals, now 22-3 on the season, will take on either Shakopee or Mankato West in the opening round of the state tournament on Thursday, June 9 at Caswell Park in North Mankato.