Softball teams are ready to start
SOFTBALL PREVIEWS ********* Local softball teams are gearing up for regular season play with most teams hitting the field for real early next week. Due to very little snow and a significant warming trend, the local teams have been able to get out...
Local softball teams are gearing up for regular season play with most teams hitting the field for real early next week. Due to very little snow and a significant warming trend, the local teams have been able to get outside over the past week and get their work in on the dirt as opposed to being stuck indoors.
A year ago the Carlton Bulldogs rode strong pitching and some timely hitting all the way to the Section 7A finals only to fall to perennial power Cherry. However, this year's version of the Bulldogs may have enough experience to get over the proverbial playoff hump. Leading the Bulldogs will be a group of eight players who return as starters at one time or another during the season. Brynne Mickle will lead the pitching corps along with Abby Mickle who will also play shortstop. Also returning are Nicole Nilsen at second, Alaina Bennett at catcher, Deanna Wallin and Taylor Nelson in the outfield and utility players Ally Hoeffling and Ava Grondahl. A big key for the Bulldogs will be overcoming the loss of Hannah Benson who was the area's top hitter last season and a mainstay behind home plate for multiple seasons.
"Some of our strengths are that even though we are young our young players are now experienced and mentally ready after making it to the section final game last year," explained Carlton coach Melissa Clark. "We have a lot of athletes who can hit the ball well and make the plays we need to make in the field."
Hoping to improve on their season a year ago the Barnum Bombers return four starters and expect to be improved in some areas, but also there is potential for struggles in other areas.
"We are a young team with young pitching," said Dustin Collelo, head coach of the Section 7A Bombers. "As our pitchers get more comfortable we should have a chance in every game we play."
Returning to lead the Bombers will be Fallon Hartman and Lea Peterson in left field and center field, respectively, as well as Mallory Agurkis at shortstop and Liz Carlson behind the plate.
Despite being young the Bombers expect to be solid on defense and a pretty good hitting team this season. According to their coach, they want to make sure they can compete in each and every game to the best of their abilities.
After losing only one player from last year's squad, the Cromwell-Wright Cardinals hope to see more wins and improved play in Section 7A.
"We only graduated one player last year (Brooke Swartout), said Cards coach Terry Sawdey. "She played just about everywhere other than pitcher, so replacing her will not be easy, but we are returning some very talented athletes."
The Cards have just three seniors returning - Samantha Fisher, Samantha Hansen and Hannah Line - as the team will hope to improve on their 2-15 season in 2016.
"I see our experience and our youth as strengths for the team," Sawdey mentioned. "We are returning a lot of starters, but we only have three seniors and one junior, so not only should we continue our ascent this year, but we should continue to climb in the coming years as well."
The South Ridge Panthers graduated five players from last year's team, and they have a new coach in Liz Beseke, but they do return a number of players who should help them continue to be one of the stronger Section 7A teams again this season.
"I think a strength of our team is we have a tight group of players who will mix experience and new, young talent," explained coach Beseke. "We might have a learning curve early in the season as we mix in some new players in new positions but we hope to compete near the top of the conference."
Celia Olesiak will return this season as a pitcher and her battery mate at catcher Bethany Williams is also back for the Panthers. Senior Rileigh Port will look for playing time in both the infield and outfield, while Marissa Bober and Delanie Bushbaum will help anchor the infield. Much like Port, Natalie Lisic will also potentially see time in both the infield and outfield.
"Although we graduate many players at key positions we have a lot of players who are eager to step up and play key roles," Beseke said. "Our new coaching staff is pleased with the efforts of the players so far this preseason."
Over in Section 7AA the Moose Lake-Willow River Rebels are coming off a stellar year that saw them fall to Esko in the sectional championship game in Cloquet. With seven returning players the Rebels look like they should contend again for the section championship.
"Our team continues to work hard at all aspects of the game," said Rebels coach Kelly Goeb. "We are working hard on our hitting and we hope to do well offensively and we should be pretty quick on the base paths as well."
Returning this year to lead the team will be one of the area's top pitchers and hitters, Ally Bode, who enters her senior season. Marissa Mikrot, Nicole Newham and Sage Gerard are also seniors who are keys to the team, with Mikrot playing catcher and third base, Newham first base and Gerard manning the first base duties. Junior Josie Benzie will be back patrolling second base again this season and fellow junior Lauren Pederson will see time at third and the outfield. Freshman Jamie Benzie will also bring depth to the outfield and Laura Walker - who was out with an ACL injury last year - will make a return as a junior outfielder/pitcher.