South Ridge (18-5) vs. New York Mills (23-2)
- What: Class A Softball State Tournament Quarterfinal
- When: 1 p.m. Thursday, June 6
- (Semifinals and consolation semifinals, 7 p.m., Thursday, June 6; finals, Friday, June 7)
- Where: Caswell Park, North Mankato
On the first day of South Ridge softball practice in March, Celia Olesiak and her fellow seniors approached new coach Roger Plachta with their plan for the Panthers.
"We all really wanted to get to the state tournament," Olesiak said. "I've never gone in any sport."
Well, plan accomplished, but still not finished.
That's because South Ridge readies for their small Culver-based school's inaugural state softball tournament appearance when they take on New York Mills in a 1 p.m. Class A state quarterfinal Thursday, June 6, at Caswell Park in North Mankato.
The top-seeded Eagles (23-2) are the state's two-time defending champions, but that plays right into the cards of the unseeded Panthers (18-5), on their latest prowl.
Incredibly, South Ridge rolled through the Section 7A tournament winning five games without giving up a single run in their 33 innings played, including dethroning the two-time reigning champs Carlton and then blanking Cherry 1-0 in a wild, walk-off final in the bottom of the seventh inning.
"I think it just shows that if we set our minds to something, we can accomplish it," said Olesiak, the team's third baseman, and one of four seniors, including Malania Madill, Natalie Lisic and Shayna Preston. "We had that determination throughout the whole season."
"The way we've been playing, I think we have a good chance," added Plachta, 63, who also won a state championship with Esko and then became the all-time winningest coach at the University of Wisconsin-Superior before coming to the Panthers in March.
"In all my years of coaching, I've never seen a group improve so fast," he said. "They are so eager to learn."
Now, South Ridge is eager to get on the state's brightest stage, which for Olesiak is a family affair she'll never forget - her younger sister, Adella, is the team's right fielder and her older sibling, Mikayla, is an assistant coach.
"It's really special," Olesiak said. "I'm just going to try and enjoy every minute of it and soak it all in."
"They're fighters," Plachta said. "They don't back down from anyone."