‘Canes edge Tigers to retain title

Joey Payeur

Come next spring, Marissa Kerry gladly will take advice from Shelby Nosan about mastering the mound.
Last Wednesday, though, it was the new coach getting one-upped by her future player.
In an all-Minnesota matchup on the rubber, International Falls resident Kerry got the better of Baudette’s Nosan as the Fort Frances Her-icanes captured their second-straight Rainy River District Women’s Fastball League crown with a thrilling 1-0 win over the Dawson Tigers at VanJura.
“I’m super-excited to work with Marissa next year,” said a gracious Nosan, who takes over in 2018 as head coach of the Falls Broncos’ girls’ softball team, with Kerry slated to be one of her two starters.
“She has such an awesome base and foundation to work from already, and I can definitely see her being on a college team in the future,” Nosan added.
The 17-year-old Kerry and Nosan, a college graduate, both technically were rookies in the league this season, joining their respective teams part-way through the campaign.
But they looked like polished veterans in what was a sensational showdown of right-handed aces.
Nosan won most of the statistical categories for the game, throwing a four-hitter eight strikeouts and just one walk compared to Kerry’s five-hitter that included six strikeouts and three walks.
But the most important number was the “zero” that Kerry kept in the Tigers’ run column.
“It’s pretty exciting. It’s been real fun this year,” said Kerry.
“I was nervous to come play over here but from the first time I pitched in practice, they made me feel like part of the team right away,” she added.
The ‘Canes were the top-seeded team entering the post-season, going 13-2 during the regular season and then winning four-straight in the playoffs to claim the Winners’ Side title.
The sixth-ranked Tigers, meanwhile, were a mediocre 7-6-1 in the regular season but rebounded from a 1-5 start to lose just once in their last eight outings.
Dawson then pulled off upset wins over the third-ranked Big Grassy Lynx and second-seeded Red Gut Babes before suffering a 13-3 loss to the ‘Canes to drop to the Losers’ Side.
Undeterred, the Tigers ended the Babes’ bid to make the final for the fifth-straight year in the Losers’ Side final, then gave the ‘Canes all they could handle in the rematch.
“I’m super proud. The girls were always learning new things and were constantly making improvements,” lauded Nosan, who pulled double duty this summer as she also played shortstop and pitched for the Stratton Eagles in the men’s Rainy River District Fastball League.
“If they made a mistake, you wouldn’t see them make that same mistake again,” she noted.
The Tigers had the first scoring chance last Wednesday, putting two on with one out in the second.
But Kerry struck out Charmaine Hunter and then got Tina Jack to foul out to Caylee Woolsey at first.
The ‘Canes got their first two hitters on in the third, but Nosan stranded them by fanning Sarah Noonan and eliciting a pair of fielder’s choices.
Nosan then got into scoring position in the top of the fourth after beating out an infield hit, then moving to third on a stolen base and Tanis Tom’s single.
But Kerry snuffed the rally by whiffing Shelly McDonald.
That proved crucial come the bottom of the inning.
With one out, Stacy Patey’s grounder rolled just under the glove of Dawson shortstop Laurie Fairfield.
Woolsey then singled to the opposite field to put runners at the corners.
Andrea Sweigard next worked Nosan to a full count, then hung tough by fouling off three-straight pitches.
On Nosan’s next pitch, Sweigard muscled the ball through the hole on the right side of the infield to bring in Patey for what would be the lone run of the game.
“I just tried to move my hands up the bat a little and swing a couple of seconds earlier so I didn’t foul it off again,” Sweigard recalled.
“It wasn’t my best hit because I didn’t have my knuckles lined up,” she conceded.
“But when you see that ball coming in there, you get a little excited and tell yourself, ‘Oh, that’s mine.'”
Nosan tipped her cap to Sweigard.
“Foul balls, that’s what [the Fort] does,” she noted.
“It was a low, inside pitch and she got around on it and put it into the opposite field, which is really hard to do.”
The ‘Canes almost added to the lead when Jack dropped Norma Raether’s fly ball to right.
But a textbook relay from Jack to Nosan to catcher Meghan Bourgeois arrived just in time to cut down Woolsey at the plate.
The Tigers’ last best chance to break through came in the sixth when Alicia Anderson drew a lead-off walk.
But after Kerry struck out Candy Teeple and Fairfield, co-coach Jeff Kerry hastily called a mound conference with Nosan–already 2-for-2 in the game–coming to the plate.
“She’s a great hitter . . . and it’s always intimidating to face great players,” Marissa Kerry noted.
“But you have to respect all but fear none,” she reasoned.
By that philosophy, Nosan drew an “unintentional” intentional walk as Kerry threw four pitches nowhere near the strike zone.
But putting the tying run in scoring position, and the go-ahead run on base, was a risk the ‘Canes were willing to take–and it paid off.
Tom smacked a Kerry offering to the left of the first base bag but Woolsey made a stellar backhand stop, then stretched out her foot to touch the bag just ahead of the runner.
“The defence helped a lot tonight,” said Kerry. “It’s a big pick-up for a team when they make a big defensive play.”
Dawson tried one last time to score the equalizer in the seventh.
Hunter singled with one out but was erased at second on a fielders’ choice started by Noonan, who raced over from shortstop to touch second base and then made a lunging throw to first to almost get Jack for a game-ending double play.
But Kerry extinguished the Tigers’ title dreams by fielding Cass Teeple’s one-hopper back to the mound and tossing the ball to first for the final out.
“The team really came together this year,” said Sweigard after the ‘Canes became just the second team to repeat as champs since the league was resurrected in 2013 (Red Gut was the other in 2013-14).
“We practised as hard as we could and were just happy to be out there, and we watched our team grow,” she added.