NORTH MANKATO, Minn. - This hadn't happened to Rosemount all season. The undefeated Irish had spent the spring laying waste to all comers, compiling an undefeated record going into the Class 4A softball state championship game against Forest Lake.
But the good fortune that had gone hand in hand with the huge talent Rosemount put on the field was missing Friday.
Forest Lake freshman pitcher Avery Muellner shut down the Irish for three innings. Rangers coach Sean Hall, a master planner, had his team pressuring Rosemount at every opportunity.
Calls weren't going Rosemount's way. Players were running into one another. Thoughts of the unthinkable began to creep in.
No matter. Rosemount had Paige Zender.
The power-hitting first baseman hit her fourth home run of the tournament, her 15th of the season, a laser over the left-field fence, turning a one-run deficit into a one-run lead and sparking a 6-1 Rosemount victory.
It was the second state championship in three years for Rosemount, which had 10 players on the roster Friday who also played on the 2021 team. The Irish, with three All-Metro first-team selections, finished the season 26-0.
Zender's blast provided more than just a lead. It put wind back into the Irish sails, and they began to look more like themselves. Pitcher Jessa Snippes settled in after giving up an early run, and the defense, a bit wobbly at first, strengthened.
Snippes, the Star Tribune's Metro Player of the Year, pitched her third complete game of the tournament, giving up two hits and three walks with seven strikeouts.
She was helped by dazzling play by catcher Grace Nosan, who backed up an errant throw from the outfield and nailed a runner trying to go to third to end a threat.
Rosemount added four runs in the top of the sixth inning. Forest Lake put two runners on base in the top of the seventh but scored no more.
After the game, the talk was about Zender's penchant for big blasts, recalling her grand slam in the championship game two years ago. That, too, was in a victory over Forest Lake.
"I was excited, but I guess I wasn't surprised," Rosemount coach Tiffany Rose said. "Because Paige has come through for us so many times and she is just really tough mentally at the plate. I mean, who hits four home runs in a state tournament?"
After the game, Zender stood, mobbed by a horde of reporters, soaking in the moment.
"It feels good," she said. "It feels real good."