Gallery: Albert Lea softball team sweeps Austin at home

Published 8:11 pm Thursday, May 1, 2014

Megan Kortan of Albert Lea tries to stop Bailee Brooks from stealing second base Thursday against Austin at the Hammer Complex. Albert Lea won both games of a doubleheader. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

Megan Kortan of Albert Lea tries to stop Bailee Brooks from stealing second base Thursday against Austin at the Hammer Complex. Albert Lea won both games of a doubleheader. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

The Albert Lea softball team extended its winning streak against Austin to six games by sweeping a doubleheader Thursday at the Hammer Complex.

The Tigers won 16-9 in Game 1 after leading the entire game, and they won 4-3 in Game 2 after trailing the entire game, knotting the score in the bottom of the seventh inning and winning in the bottom of the eighth.

“They were two completely different ballgames,” said Albert Lea coach Dan Harms.

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In Game 1, the Tigers caught fire at the plate. Haley Harms and Veronica Silva led Albert Lea with four hits each. Harms was perfect at the plate with three runs scored and a walk. Silva was 4-for-5 with a double, six RBIs, two runs scored and a stolen base. The offensive explosion came on the heels of averaging one run per game against the last three Big Nine Conference opponents. Albert Lea adjusted that average with 16 runs on 22 hits.

“We were seeing the ball come out of her hand really well,” coach Harms said. “We figured out the timing and put some really good swings at the ball.”

Along with leading the Tigers offensively, Harms and Silva led the team defensively.

Harms faced 28 batters and allowed 11 hits and three walks.

Silva is Albert Lea’s only non-returning starter from last season, but she said she’s starting to feel comfortable as a catcher on the varsity stage.

“I have my moments, but I’m calming down pretty well,” Silva said. “I’ve been playing summer-ball with them for a few years, and now we’re starting to get it together.”

Last season, Big Nine All-Conference selection Dominique Villarreal led Albert Lea from behind the plate. This year, she plays at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, but before she left, she spent time working with Silva.

“She was really helpful with ways to get quicker throws down to second,” Silva said. “I was pretty honored. She’s been a big influence to me.”

In Game 2, the Tigers got off to a rough start. Austin took advantage of a passed ball and a first-base overthrow to take a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. A double play to end the inning minimized the damage for Albert Lea.

After the Packers added another run in the top of the second, the Tigers answered in the bottom of the third. Haley Schroader led off with a base on balls and scored with two outs when Harms slapped the ball down the first-base line and still managed to beat the throw.

Austin threatened in the top of the fourth with no outs and runners on first and second, but Albert Lea got out of the inning unscathed with a pair of fly-outs to Taylor Thompson in left field.

The Packers took a 3-1 lead into the fifth inning. The top of the inning was three up, three down. Albert Lea had a chance in the bottom to cut into its deficit with one out and the bases loaded. However, the runners were stranded. A scoreless sixth inning gave the Tigers one more chance in the seventh.

Harms kept Austin off the board in the top of the inning. In the bottom, the Tigers found their stride. Caycee Gilbertson led off with a base hit. Megan Kortan followed with another base hit, and Harms loaded the bases with a bunt and no outs.

A two-RBI single by Thompson tied the game, to force an eighth inning.

After holding Austin scoreless for the fifth straight inning, the Tigers had a chance to take its first lead of the game. Albert Lea’s lead-off batter, Kassi Hardies, was hit by a pitch and scored the winning run on a passed ball during Caycee Gilbertson’s at-bat.

“I knew that we had to get on base to get anything to happen,” Hardies said. “Then I was hit, and I just wanted to keep advancing the bases.”

Harms pitched both games and faced 60 batters.

“I’m really proud of the pitching, and we had pretty good defense on a cold night,” coach Harms said. “She gutted it out and threw two really good games. There was good pitching, and good catching by Veronica.”

The Tigers (4-6 overall, 3-4 Big Nine Conference) snapped a three-game losing streak and inched toward .500 with the win.

“They hung in there, and they just need to find ways to grind out the tight games like this,” coach Harms said. “The whole team was much more focused. They played with more enthusiasm and confidence, and they’re having fun right now.”

Next, Albert Lea will host a doubleheader against Rochester Century (2-2 overall, 2-2 Big Nine Conference) at 11 a.m. at the Hammer Complex.

Statistics are in the Scoreboard: May 1 post.