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With two out of three, Rebels take third

When asked what her three seniors have meant to her and their community's softball squad over the years, an emotional Moose Lake/Willow River head coach Kelley Goeb needed a moment.

Rightfully so, as the momentum that Sarah Christy, Alexis Hoffmann and Hannah Roach have brought to the Rebels' program has sent them soaring into the record books.

In fact, the trio bookended their prep careers in familiar territory - with a win - as Christy and Hoffmann split duty in the pitcher's circle, spinning a two-hitter in a 6-0 shutout of Upsala, while Roach reached out for a dazzling grab in the outfield to ensure a Class A third-place finish in last week's state tournament in Mankato.

That's why Goeb's tears were running so fast and her hugs with her triple threat of do-it-all graduates ran so deservingly long afterward.

"I've coached those girls since they were 10," said Goeb, choking up. "Those girls - along with last year's seniors - I've worked with them pretty much their whole softball careers. So, to see how hard they have worked, improved, grown to love and learn the game and just be great role models and teammates has been really fun to watch."

ML/WR was fun to watch last Friday afternoon at Caswell Park.

The tournament Cinderella, Upsala, was never in contention, as the Rebels Sandra Ribich ripped a two-run homer in the bottom of the first inning.

That was more than enough for Hoffmann, the game's starter, and Christy, the late-inning reliever.

The two senior state all-star game selections are like peanut butter and jelly. Or, yin to the other's yang. The duo simply goes together.

While the right-handed Hoffmann tossed the first four innings, allowing just one hit and striking out six Cardinals, the southpaw Christy chucked the last three frames, offering up just a single knock and fanning seven batters.

Hoffmann twirled their 7-2 quarterfinal win over New Ulm Cathedral on Thursday.

"We're very similar pitchers, but I can say our advantage is that I'm left-handed and she's right-handed," said Christy, who will pitch at Division III St. Catherine University next year in St. Paul. "That can definitely throw a batter off."

"Both throw pretty hard and I was really impressed with their changeups," said Upsala head coach Nick Klug. "We don't see pitchers like them."

Klug's unseeded Upsala squad stunned top-ranked Randolph 1-0 in Thursday's quarterfinals, only to see a late lead turn into a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat to eventual state champion Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian later that night in the semis.

By Friday, mighty ML/WR, seeded third, and hungry from a similar gut-wrenching 2-1 loss to Badger/Greenbush-Middle River the night before in the semis, was poised to finish on a victory.

The Rebels, which finished 23-4, added a pair of runs each in the bottom of the third and sixth innings en route to their dizzying 49th win in 58 games over the past two seasons.

Their third-place trophy, which was carried out of the park in the arms of Roach, will sit alongside their state runner-up trophy from a year ago.

"There's not very many people that get to end their season with a win," Goeb said. "No, it's not exactly where we wanted to be, but we're here, playing at state and coming home with hardware. I'm super proud of this team."

In fact, Roach, who walked out alongside Hoffmann, called this team a "family." She'll be attending the College of St. Benedict next year, but won't soon forget her memories with her softball Rebels - especially her pair of classmates.

"I'm almost losing a part of me," said Roach of Christy and Hoffmann. "They hold a special place in my heart as teammates and just as my friends."

Hoffmann, who will head south to Winona State University, agreed.

"We have a really strong bond," said Hoffmann. "Me, Hannah and Sarah have grown up together. It's just going to be sad to see it all go."

Yet, as tough as it is to see a prep career finish, the Rebels faithful were there in full-fledged support. From cheering and rooting all tournament, to taking plenty of photos and giving gracious hugs, the Rebels' fan base came in droves.

Goeb even said their 14-and-under summer program canceled their games last week to make the southbound journey to North Mankato.

"Seeing the sea of red has been amazing," Goeb said. "They admire these girls and look up to them. And that just has a lot to do with the kind of people they are."

Christy even coached an 8-and-under Rebel crew last summer. She cracked a smile when asked about giving back and what this program has meant to her.

"It was just awesome," said Christy. "It's all just been so very fun."

"I'm very grateful," added Roach about her time in red and blue. "I'll always remember this."