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Janke goes from out of the game, to out of the park

South Ridge's Danielle Vick slides in safely at the plate, ahead of the tag by Cromwell-Wright's Taya Hakamaki during Friday's Polar League softball game. The Panthers shut out the Cardinals 17-0. Dave Harwig/ 1 / 2
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Stepping into the batter's box for her first at-bat in 23 months, South Ridge’s Lindsey Janke received the bunt sign from softball coach Tim Anvid against Floodwood last week. She executed it perfectly.

From then on, however, it was nothing but long balls for the senior centerfielder.

Janke, who was returning for her first softball contest since tearing her anterior cruciate ligament the prior basketball season, propelled the Panthers to a 34-0 pounding of the Polar Bears last Thursday with three home runs — two over the fence — and seven runs batted in.

"Put it this way, it'll be tough to give her that bunt sign again," Anvid cracked.

Janke — a 5-foot-6, three-sport athlete who also plays volleyball and basketball — cracked her first two dingers over the chainlink fence, while her third stayed in the park as she swiftly sped around the bases. Janke, who used all sides of the field last week, admitted she's fair at bunting, but she didn't mind seeing the ball clear the fence twice for her first-ever career round-trippers.

"I just try keep the ball in play, but sometimes you get lucky and hit it over the fence," said the right-handed slugger. "I thought I'd be a little rusty, but it felt good to get back out there."

"That was a surprise," added Anvid of Janke's power from his No. 2 batter. "But it doesn't bother me."

Anvid has been nothing but smiles in their opening week of play when, in addition to their 34-run rout of Floodwood last Thursday, South Ridge rolled by Cromwell-Wright 17-0 a day later, last Friday.

No surprise, Janke was at it again, pounding the Panthers’ only extra-base hit with her double, while sophomore teammates Bethany Williams and Danielle Vick also added singles. That was it, however, as Cardinals freshman pitcher Elizabeth Risacher walked 17 and hit another in providing the Panthers with plenty of opportunities to score.

Terry Sawdey, in his fourth season as coach at Cromwell-Wright, admitted that Risacher hasn't been nearly as effective as last season, as the right-hander has been working on some new pitches with assistant coach and former high school pitcher in Colorado, Courtney Kinnett.

Against South Ridge last week, junior Sam Fisher and eighth-grader Taya Hakamaki had the Cardinals' only hits. Thus far, winless Cromwell-Wright (0-3) has been outscored 59-3 and has struck out 26 times. Nonetheless, that doesn't faze Sawdey, who was upbeat about his group earlier this week.

"Honestly, as frustrating as it's been, I'm extremely excited about the future," said a confident Sawdey of his team of 15 players, with just lone senior Brooke Swartout and 11 other underclassmen. "Things will start clicking and good things will happen once we get the bats going. I believe we’ve got a few wins in our system."

Speaking of wins, South Ridge (2-1) had won their first couple, outscoring their foes 51-0 in two five-inning mercy-rule outings, until falling 6-5 to Mesabi East Tuesday night. They also face Silver Bay and Cherry — schools with a state softball tournament history — today (Thursday) and Friday.

"We'll see what we're made of this week," said Anvid, now in his ninth season.

This season, more than most, Anvid anticipates the team will be led by experience, as his five seniors — Janke, Krystal Karppinen, Mallory Thibault, Dominique Rossing and Tatianna Zimmerman — are all gamers. All start too. While Thibault is the team's top hurler, freshman Celia Olesiak a optimal reliever.

"It's been a fun start. They're a great bunch to be around. They work hard, but aren't afraid to laugh — that's what this is all about," Anvid said.

"We've got a lot of players that can play any position — they're all capable," Anvid added. "And we can hit from top to bottom."

None better so far than Janke, their bunter-turned-basher, always keeping her Panthers first.

"Sports are about teammates, not individuals," Janke said.

"It was tough being out last year, but it's been fun but getting back on the field again," she continued. "I just want to get on the bases and help the team any way I can."

Be it bunting, or belting homers.