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Softball: Rebels start season with field practice advantage

Moose Lake-Willow River's Sarah Christy throws a pitch during the Friday, April 26, softball game in Willow River vs. Duluth Denfeld. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal1 / 4
Moose Lake-Willow River's Natalie Mikrot swings the bat Friday, April 26, against Duluth Denfeld. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal2 / 4
Moose Lake-Willow River's Ashley Grutkoski gets a hit. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal3 / 4
Moose Lake-Willow River's Maci Kukuk bunts for a base hit Friday, April 26, against Denfeld. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal4 / 4

If high school softball games lasted six innings, Moose Lake-Willow River softball coach Kelly Goeb would probably have been happier Tuesday, April 30.

But her Rebels had to get Esko out in the seventh inning to win the game between the teams, and the Eskomos rallied for four runs in the final frame to claim a 7-4 win.

"That was difficult to lose," Goeb said. "Esko is a good team and we could have won the game but we didn't finish it out. But, playing an opponent like that makes you better."

Eighth-grader Sarah Christy took the hard-luck loss for the Rebels, pitching a complete game and scattering five hits while striking out four and walking five. Three of Esko's runs were unearned.

The Eskomos got a complete-game win from Miranda Kelly, who allowed five hits and two earned runs while fanning three and walking two.

Goeb is happy with her team's offensive potential. Dallis Kukuk had two hits in four trips and Bella Meyer was two for three while Gabby Gamst had the team's fifth hit.

"We have some strong hitters on our team," Goeb said, "but we are trying to be more selective at the plate. Sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn't. We are trying to move girls around a bit to find the best spots in the order and in the field for them, and after that it's just learning to work together."

Kelly helped her own cause for Esko (3-3) with a two-run triple in the key seventh inning. Zole Johnson and Jayden Karppinen each had two hits for the Eskomos.

The Rebels have had a difficult start to their season, having faced both Esko and a very strong Carlton team in the early going.

"Those are good games to play because when you play teams not as strong through the order and beat them, you start to think you're pretty good," Goeb said. "Not that we aren't talented, but these are teams you can measure yourself against."

Goeb noted that her Rebels (6-3) haven't had some of the issues other teams have had with getting outside.

"We've been fortunate," she said. "Our field is completely flat, dries quickly and we have an amazing groundskeeper. Some of our dads worked on the field before it thawed out so we could get outside early and stay there. We had a week of practice on our field before our first game and not everyone could do that. It gave us a bit of an early advantage, taking grounders off the dirt rather than the gym floor."

Senior Lilli Skelton is the team's other pitcher and Goeb is happy with the blend of experience and youth between her two hurlers.

"Lilli is steady, good at hitting spots and has some speed," she said. "Sarah isn't quite as polished but then she's young and will get that polish."

The Rebels are have a decided grade split on their roster. There are five seniors, one junior, no sophomores, five freshmen and an eighth-grader who see regular playing time.

"It's a good mix," Goeb said. "We have two sets of sisters on the team, so we occasionally have to break up sibling rivalries, so that adds entertainment to our days. But it's not a huge thing." Seniors Rachel Christy and Dallis Kukuk are shepherding Sarah Christy and freshman Maci Kukuk through the program.

In a compressed season, chemistry is very important and Goeb likes what she sees.

"We seem to get along well as a group and that helps a lot," she said. "Our goal is to build until playoffs and wherever we find ways to do that helps. We want to keep building and get better each day."

The Rebels are scheduled to play Proctor on Thursday, May 2, Barnum on Friday, May 3, and Eveleth-Gilbert on Saturday, May 4. However, Goeb notes that some of the games lost to weather won't be made up.

"We're going to have a short season because of the weather and that's too bad," she said.