Packers clinch share of Big Nine

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 17, 2003

A comeback victory for the Austin High School softball team at Mankato West Friday night produced a photocopy of last year's Big Nine Conference finish.

The Packers, rated eighth in Class AAA, guaranteed themselves at least a share of their second straight Big Nine title with a 4-2 triumph to end the regular season. Austin ends with an 18-2 overall record and 15-2 league mark, winning back-to-back conference titles for the first time since 1981-82.

"It was a mirror-image of last year for the most part," said AHS coach Todd Waterbury. "Like we talked about before the game, 'We've been here before, we've done this before.'"

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Last year the Packers clinched their first conference crown since 1992 by winning in the same scenario at West. Austin's league losses this season also duplicated last year's -- splitting a doubleheader at Mankato East and falling in a one-run game at Winona.

This year's opportunity was in jeopardy after three innings at West, when the Scarlets took a 2-0 lead and Austin had yet to threaten. The Packer defense played an error-free game and helped Amy Kelly escape some early jams to minimize Mankato West's advantage.

AHS scored all four of its runs in the top of the fourth inning. Nicole Turvey started the rally with a one-out single, and after a strikeout the Packers pieced together three straight singles to chase home a pair.

Leadoff hitter Kylene Erstad, Betsy Hingeveld and Kelly collected base hits, with the latter driving in Turvey. West's right fielder attempted to throw Kelly out at first, and Erstad kept wheeling around third to beat the play to the plate.

With two runners left in scoring position, Keri Feller delivered another clutch hit with a line drive over short to score two more and take Mankato's momentum. Five of Austin's seven hits in the game came in the four-run fourth.

"The girls have just got to find a way to jumpstart themselves at the start of a game," Waterbury said. "We certainly had the opportunities to score early on."

Austin stranded the bases loaded with no outs in the third with the heart of the order at the plate.

Kelly struck out nine and walked one to up her season record to 16-2.

The Packers await the Section 1AAA seedings, for which they are hopeful of getting a top-two seed and a bye through Wednesday's first round. The section tournament starts Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Todd Park in Austin.



Kelly and Feller; Meyer and Kuhlmann. WP--Kelly (16-2). LP--Meyer.