Packers going back to state

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 1, 2002

The softball hovered over the infield for what seemed like an eternity, but not nearly as long as the Austin squad had waited for a rematch with Lakeville.

Packer pitcher Amy Kelly completed arguably her best performance of the season by gloving a pop-fly for the third and final out, securing Austin's spot at the Class AAA State Softball Tournament with a 3-0 win over Lakeville in the Section 1 finals Friday night at Todd Park.

"I thought I was going to drop it," Kelly said of the final out, helping her team to its third state tournament berth in the last four years. The Packers made back-to-back appearances in 1999 and 2000 before last year's absence.

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"This is what I've always waited for after watching the first two years," said then-underclassmen Chelsea McColley, the Austin senior second baseman who had a spot on the roster in each of the two previous state appearances.

"It's amazing, but I know we're not done though," McColley continued. "This team is awesome, and we know we can make it a lot further."

Second-seeded Austin had the advantage of having not lost in the double-elimination Section tournament, awaiting fourth-seeded Lakeville as the champion of the losers' bracket. The Panthers edged Austin 2-1 in their regular-season meeting at the Elks Softball Invite, but AHS had two chances if needed to avenge the earlier loss.

"Nobody wanted to play two games," Kelly said. "We weren't even thinking about that second game. It was a win-or-lose situation."

The Packers (20-3) will play Section 5 winner Fridley (20-5) in their first-round match at the state tournament Friday at 9 a.m. at Caswell Park in North Mankato.

"After missing (state) last year, this one is probably a little more appreciated," Austin coach Todd Waterbury said. "It gives you a better understanding of how difficult it is to get there."

Guided by veteran experience and leadership, Austin's cast of talented newcomers made its own breaks and took advantage of the breaks given them. Two two-out errors by Lakeville's infield led to all three Packer runs on consecutive singles by sophomore Keri Feller and junior Steph Eslinger in the top of the sixth inning.

Panther shortstop Chantele Melgaard fired to first base after fielding Betsy Hingeveld's grounder, but Lakeville first baseman Carly Anderson couldn't handle the throw. McColley followed with a ground ball to Melgaard, whose throw found the fence allowing Hingeveld to reach third.

Lakeville hurler Darcie Neumann, understandably rattled by the brash of blunders, quickly fell behind 3-0 to Kelly, who looked to on-deck hitter Feller to prepare her for a chance at heroics.

"When the count was 3-0, Amy turned to me and said 'Get ready,'" Feller said. "I hadn't really done anything up to then."

Feller had broken up Neumann's perfect game with a one-out single in the fifth, and she broke the scoreless tie with a bases-loaded two-run single that proved to be the game-winner.

"I don't think I've ever been that relaxed at the plate," Feller said. "I just hit it hard and gave it everything I had, it was awesome."

Feller also stopped Lakeville's best scoring threats with her arm, throwing out a pair of Panther baserunners in the third and fourth innings. Lakeville's Kristen Vivant got the game's first hit with a chopper over third, but after advancing to second base on a sacrifice bunt Vivant was picked off by Feller and McColley on the third-strike pitch to Neumann.

"That's a huge play for a sophomore to make," said Coach Waterbury, who will be guiding his team to its third state tournament appearance in his four years. "That set them right back down to hopefully keep them in check."

Adrienne Beckstrom was the beneficiary of Kelly's first of two walks, but she was caught stealing with one out in the fourth. Beckstrom appeared to have the base stolen but slid past the bag, allowing McColley a second chance at the tag.

And as Austin would prove, you can't afford to give the Packers second chances.

Feller's bases-loaded single drove in Hingeveld and McColley, and Eslinger followed it with an RBI-single to complete Austin's three-run outburst.

"I knew she'd step up, she's been doing it all year," Kelly said of Feller.

Three runs was more than enough for Kelly, who struck out 13 in her third shutout of the postseason. Nine of Kelly's strikeouts came on third-pitch changeups. Lakeville got just two hits and two walks, and the Austin defense committed no errors as Kelly corralled the final out herself.

"Those last three outs took forever," she said. "I know sometimes when I start out strong I get tired as the game goes on, but I just had to keep (my pitches) in there and the defense would do the job. I'm confident in them and they're all confident in themselves."

The Packer infield was 5-for-5 on opportunities, and the only fly-ball out of the game was the final pop-up caught by Kelly. She also retired the first six Panther batters on strikeouts.

"That just started us off on the right foot," McColley said. "We probably take her (Kelly) for granted too much, she pitched awesome tonight."

Call Ross Thede at 434-2234 or e-mail him at