Bluejackets grasp conference championship

Katie McCann scoring a late run in the 8-1 win over Monticello.

The Cambridge-Isanti fastpitch squad earned a solid piece of history by holding off visiting Monticello 8-1 in the final regular-season game May 23. The win clinched a share of the Mississippi 8 Conference championship with Buffalo, snapping a 20-year drought of titles for the Bluejackets.

Senior pitcher Bailey Bakken struck out a season-high 10 batters and limited a great Magic hitting team to 7 hits. Bakken also kick-started the offense twice with a rocket triple and double to lead off the second and fourth innings, respectively

“This championship just means everything to me right now. My senior year, I’ve never wanted anything so much,” said Bakken after the game. “Our bats have gotten so much better over the four years I’ve been on varsity. Last year, we were a .500 team, even, and got seeded good for sections. This year, we just really brought the bats, and our defense has been looking a lot better. We just have a lot more fire and heart out there.”

The Bluejackets opened up a 2-0 lead in the second when Bakken led off with a triple to the left-center gap. She beat the throw to the plate on a Grace Smethers’ grounder to short. Kendall Sandberg then drove in Smethers on another grounder.

In the fourth, Bakken led off with a double and scored on a Smethers’ single. Sandberg produced an RBI single, and then she scored on an Erica Epsen base hit.

“Bailey had good zip on her fastball, and she was getting the change over. So that was key to keeping the Monticello hitters off-balance,” described Coach Dave Hanson. “Right now, we’re swinging the bats the best we have all season, up and down the lineup, and that’s the key for us. That’s what makes us a cool team– we step up and play together.”

Bailey Bakken chucking in the win over the Magic.

Monticello touched Bakken for one run in the top of the sixth, but the Bluejackets answered right back with a three-pack of runs. Smethers singled sharply to left, then with two outs, Leah Ponting delivered an RBI hit to center.  After a Katie McCann walk, Amanda Hanson closed the scoring with a long double to right center, plating Ponting and McCann.

“We just have a different mentality at the plate than in the past– being aggressive right away,” said senior Allie Hanson on the team’s hitting approach this season. “My dad (Coach Hanson) always calls it ‘salivating at the plate,’’ like you’re ready to just hit the ball. I think that fires us up as a team, and we’ve come together because of it.”

Along with smoking St. Michael-Albertville 15-5 on Friday to set the stage for the big win against Monticello, a big reason for the Jackets’ success has been the rallying spirit over the course of this season,

“We got just a huge win at Buffalo (May 13) when we were tied 2-2. Usually in those situations last year, we kind of laid down a bit. But this year we stayed on fire,” said Allie Hanson. “Then at Becker, we’re down 6-2, and we scored nine runs in the top of the seventh. That was just unbelievable and so much fun. For us seniors to see the younger players step up has been really nice.”

Hanson has coached members of this team since they were  2nd and 3rd graders in the Soderville league. “I’ve been around these kids for years. It’s rewarding,” he said. “We talked about it in the beginning of the season that we could win the conference; we said we wanted to make some noise this year. We have good players, a good pitcher, good defense. The sophomores have stepped up, and Katie McCann moving from the outfield to do a great job at catcher has been big.

“It’s a team effort. It’s a lot of fun, and when we win, it’s fun.”

Finished leader Allie Hanson, “It’s unbelievable– a dream come true. We’ve been talking about this for a long time. It’s a huge confidence boost for us entering the playoffs, but we still have a lot of work to do to make sure we get to the section final four.”

Jackets seeded No. 2 for 7AAA playoffs

Cambridge-Isanti, rewarded for its 16-4 season, is the No. 2 seed for the Section 7AAA tournament. On Thursday, May 26 (4:30 p.m.), the Bluejackets will host No. 7 Anoka (6-9) who defeated No. 10 North Branch 3-1 in the opening round May 24. The Jackets did not face Anoka during the regular season.

Duluth Central (17-2) earned the top seed in the section, and St. Francis (13-6) is the No. 4 seed. Forest Lake (12-6) is the No. 3 seed in C-I’s half of the brackets. Teams advancing out of the May 26 games enter the double-elimination final four part of the brackets which will run June 1 and 2 at Chisago Lakes H.S.

M-8 Softball

FINAL: Cambridge-Isanti 14-2, 16-4; Buffalo 14-2, 17-2; Big Lake 11-5, 13-7; St. Michael-Alb. 9-7, 11-9; Becker 9-7, 13-8; Monticello 8-8, 10-8; Rogers 4-12, 7-13; Princeton 3-13, 3-13; Zimmerman 1-15, 1-16.