Tigers take down Huskies

Published 7:46 pm Thursday, April 16, 2015

Meliza Lopez of Albert Lea swings at a pitch Thursday against Owatonna at Hammer Field. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

Meliza Lopez of Albert Lea swings at a pitch Thursday against Owatonna at Hammer Field. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

Clutch defense lifted the Albert Lea softball team past .500.

Owatonna had runners on second and third with two outs in consecutive innings, but flyouts to Hanna Schilling and Taylor Thompson preserved a 3-0 shutout for the Tigers Thursday at Hammer Field.

“We’re executing well defensively,” said Albert Lea coach Dan Harms. “Nothing’s getting through (Megan) Kortan at shortstop, and we’re holding our own in the outfield.”

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The Tigers (3-2, 3-2 Big Nine) were led by Haley Harms from the pitching circle. She faced 19 batters and allowed eight hits. In addition to hitting her spots and striking out three batters, Harms kept the Huskies off-balance with changeups.

“Haley threw a good game,” coach Harms said. “She moved the ball in, moved the ball out, up and down. I was happy to see that.”

The game featured a combined 46 at-bats, and neither Harms nor Owatonna pitcher Tiana Blazek surrendered a base on balls.

“Everything was around the strike zone,” coach Harms said. “It was a really clean game.”

Albert Lea scored its first run in the bottom of the first inning when Harms crossed the plate on an Owatonna error at shortstop.

After Schilling’s catch in left field got the Tigers out of a jam in the top of the third, Albert Lea added two more runs in the bottom of the inning. It started with a ground-rule double by Taylor Thompson on an error and a bunt-hit by Harms, who hustled down the first-base line to beat the throw.

“Something we’ve been focusing on is sprinting out of the box,” coach Harms said. “We do that inside and haven’t always transferred that outside. But we did today.”

With one out, Grandstrand — the fourth batter in the Tigers’ lineup — stepped to the plate and crushed an RBI double to left field. Hardies knocked in Harms on the next at-bat.

“Those four and five spots are making a difference for us,” coach Harms said. “It’s only Grandstrand’s first year on varsity, but she’s showing us that she belongs here.”

Although Grandstrand is a varsity rookie, she played with her teammates as part of the U18 Ruby team that won the Southern Minny League last summer with a record of 14-2.

“When I played summer ball with these girls, they took me in, which was nice,” said Grandstrand. “It’s my first year, but I feel like I’m part of the team.”

Grandstrand and Harms tied with a team-high two hits each.

Eight of nine players in Albert Lea’s lineup had a hit, an RBI or a run scored.

“Everybody’s contributing a little bit offensively and defensively, so I’m happy with the way we’re playing right now,” coach Harms said.

The Tigers will look to sweep the Huskies for the second consecutive season at 5 p.m. May 5 at Owatonna. The Huskies fell to 2-2 with the loss.

Next, Albert Lea will play at a tournament with two guaranteed games Saturday at St. Clair. Times have not been determined.