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Record delayed but not denied, southern MN softball coach keeps winning

After a 10-month holdup, Winona Cotter softball coach Pat Bowlin watched his team walk off Caledonia 6-5 on April 5 for his state-record-breaking 803rd career victory.

The 2024 success continued, but not without complication.

The following game was against La Crescent-Hokah, the team that kept Bowlin from reaching the record last season and extended his time tied with former New Ulm Cathedral coach Bob Mertz at 802 wins.

La Crescent-Hokah made Bowlin wait once more, forcing Cotter into a 15-inning game.

"It's the longest game I've ever had," Bowlin said. "I've had 14 innings and a couple of 13s but never a 15."

Cotter claimed its revenge on the Lancers, winning 9-7 and pushing Bowlin to win No. 804 in his 40th season coaching. Now the wins are piling up. Cotter is 4-0 after Monday's 8-4 victory over Lewiston-Altura. The team is ranked third in Class 2A by the Minnesota Fastpitch Coaches Association in the first poll of the season.

Bowlin, 64, recognizes the relief that would have come with achieving the record before the new season. That chance came twice during the section tournament last year, but St. Charles dropped Cotter into the elimination bracket and La Crescent-Hokah ended the Ramblers' season, leaving Bowlin tied with Mertz.

But Bowlin has the record now and is rolling with the same goals as always: good rides and good results.

"We want to enjoy this experience, but we also want to do well," Bowlin said.

The Ramblers coach kick-started his first eight years' worth of wins at St. Bernard's High School in St. Paul, where he won four state championships.

Bowlin picked one game from among his 804 wins that sticks out: St. Bernard's 1986 state championship win, 4-3 over Mapleton-Amboy-Good Thunder on a walkoff single.

"Incredible, to win a state championship on a walk-off was pretty darn cool," Bowlin said.

Bowlin said he has no plans to call it quits and wishes to continue coaching as long as he is doing a good job.

When looking back on his career, wins don't come to mind for Bowlin.

"I feel really good about [my career]," Bowlin said. "I am proud of myself for what I have accomplished as a coach, not the wins but the impact on kids' lives."

Theo Franz is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for Star Tribune.

State rankings

By the Minnesota Fastpitch Coaches Association

Class 4A

1. Forest Lake; 2. Rosemount; 3. Farmington; 4. Shakopee; 5. Stillwater; 6. Maple Grove; 7. Centennial; 8. White Bear Lake; 9 (tie). Eden Prairie and Lakeville South.

Class 3A

1. Mankato East; 2. Winona; 3. Cretin-Derham Hall; 4. Chisago Lakes; 5. Delano; 6. Mankato West; 7. (tie) Holy Angels and New Ulm; 9. Simley; 10. Byron.

Class 2A

1. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton; 2. Belle Plaine; 3. Cotter; 4. Randolph; 5. St. Agnes; 6. Hawley; 7. Le Sueur-Henderson; 8. Rockford; 9. Pipestone Area; 10. Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial.

Class 1A

1. Edgerton/SW MN Christian; 2. Badger/GB-MR; 3. Moose Lake/Willow River; 4. Russell-Tyler-Ruthton; 5. New Ulm Cathedral; 6. Upsala; 7. (tie) Mille Lacs and Red Lake Falls; 9. (tie) Sleepy Eye St. Mary's and Southland.