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John’s Journal: The Road To State Softball, And An Eye On 2024

Becker-St. Francis Rivalry Exemplifies High-Quality Competition

Posted: Tuesday, June 6, 2023 - 9:49 AM


The Becker Bulldogs celebrate their section championship.


St. Francis pitcher Sydney Borchert.

As Minnesota’s best high school softball teams gather at Caswell Park in North Mankato on Thursday and Friday for the state tournament, they all have stories to tell about their path to state.

It’s hard to top what the team from Becker High School has been through. The Bulldogs survived the Class 3A Section 5 tournament by defeating the St. Francis Saints in a memorable series of games, three consecutive games in all, between the Mississippi 8 Conference opponents.

After defeating Monticello 5-3 in its opening section tourney game, Becker defeated St. Francis 1-0 in a game that lasted 17 innings. The Saints rallied immediately after that loss, on a hot and humid day, to defeat Monticello 4-3 in an elimination game. That set up the section championship scenario, with Becker and St. Francis meeting again two days after the Saints’ two-game, 24-inning day.

Last Friday in Elk River, Becker – unbeaten in the postseason -- needed to win one game to go state, where they won a title two years ago. The Saints needed to defeat the Bulldogs twice to earn St. Francis' first trip to the state softball tournament since 1983.

The Saints played stellar softball in the first game and wrapped up a 5-1 win that sent the teams to a winner-take-all game. On another sun-filled, heat-filled afternoon, the teams had about 30 minutes of down time before the second game, and that time was filled with shade, sports drinks, rest and recuperation.

There were no surprises about the pitchers in the second game. Becker’s Kurstyn Patnode, a lanky senior workhorse, matched up against St. Francis ninth-grader Sydney Borchert, who at the midway point of her high school career is already in her third year as a starting pitcher.

Sydney can throw all day, as evidenced by this fact: She pitched all 17 innings against Becker and was also in the circle for 14 innings when Becker beat the Saints 7-3 in a game near the end of the regular season. In the 17-inning game, Sydney threw more than 200 pitches and recorded 23 strikeouts.

“She loves the game, she loves her team, and she fights for them,” St. Francis coach Sharon Bergman said after the games last week. “I tried to pull her out a couple times today and she refused. She said, ‘I want this.’ She was like, ‘This is my team.’ And she's got the fight and she's got the drive and I'm really proud of her and the entire team.

“We literally have gone head to head with Becker,” Bergman said. “Our history with them could literally be a flip of a coin, in my opinion.”

Becker coach Jason Baune said of Borchert, “I don't think I’ve seen someone that dominant that young. She's been good since seventh grade, she works really hard in the offseason and she just keeps getting better.”

Borchert throws a rise ball that baffles hitters, and the Bulldogs had to be prepared to face her, the coach said. On Thursday, the day off between games against the Saints, the Bulldogs focused on shortening their swings.

“We just worked a little bit more on putting the ball in play,” said Baune. “She's got such a good rise ball and she hits the outside corner. We struggled with that in the 14-inning game and we struggled in the 17-inning game. But we worked on that a little bit and just talked to the kids about, ‘Hey, you’ve got to put the ball in play and make them make plays and eventually good things happen.’ And eventually it did.”

In the deciding game, St. Francis scored two early runs via hustle and sharp baserunning before Patnode tied it 2-2 with a home run in the fifth inning. A bases-loaded infield single by Jacqueline Newmann put Becker ahead 3-2 in the sixth, followed by five more runs as things erupted for the Bulldogs. In the midst of it, St. Francis eighth-grader Hailey Ausland relieved Borchert.

The Saints kept up the fight, including a two-run homer by Kara Schwintek to close the scoring. The final was Becker 7, St. Francis 5.

Becker is at state for the eighth time since 2008. Several of the current players were on the 2021 title team, including Patnode, who also played at state in 2019 when she was an eighth-grader.

Kurstyn said playing at the state tournament “is the best experience you can have. It's the best. Everybody's there to compete and it's just so much fun.”

Becker, which is seeded fourth among the eight Class 3A teams, will meet fifth-seeded Cretin-Derham Hall in Friday’s state quarterfinals. Hopes are high for the Bulldogs, a veteran team with eight seniors on the roster.

For St. Francis, thoughts are turning to the 2024 season. There are three seniors on the 2023 team (Kayla Bosen, Kyla Abrahamson and Anna Haider), and with young, hard-throwing pitchers like Borchert and Ausland coming back along with a cadre of other talented players, the Saints will be a team to watch.

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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