Thunder softball off to 1-5 start

In 34 years of coaching, Kerry Rodd had seen nothing like it. In the final inning of the game against Dakota College of Bottineau, Rodd's Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College softball team recorded 19 batters, 15 runs, 10 base hits and five w...

In 34 years of coaching, Kerry Rodd had seen nothing like it.

In the final inning of the game against Dakota College of Bottineau, Rodd's Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College softball team recorded 19 batters, 15 runs, 10 base hits and five walks. The half inning took 40 minutes. And they lost.

In their final game of the annual Minnesota Classic at the Rosemount Dome, the Thunder fell to Bottineau 17-15 in a game that took nearly two hours Monday afternoon. And although FDLTCC fell short, that last inning was a win in their books.

"In all my years coaching, especially at the upper level, I have never been a part of anything like that," Rodd said. "I looked at my watch after, and it was unbelievable. It just went on forever."

Freshman infielder Rachel Sanda batted three times that inning. She agreed.


"By far, that was most times I've got to hit in an inning ever," said Sanda, who has been playing the sport since she was 10 years old. "It was a lot of fun. We wanted to show that we could come back and play with them. We just came a little short."

According to Rodd, FDLTCC struggled throughout the early stages of the game, as they lacked pitching depth. With their second- and third-string hurlers unavailable due to fatigue and injury, top thrower - freshman Katie Youngberg - entered the contest after already throwing the first couple games that day.

Youngberg recorded outs, but weakened. Rodd replaced her with relief pitcher and centerfielder Anna Engelmeier. The sophomore captain did her best, but Bottineau smashed the ball around. Entering the final inning, they were up 17-0.

"The umpire told me we had five minutes left due to the time limit, and then we took 40," he laughed. "The girls just didn't quit. The light switch just turned on."

Earlier on Monday, the Thunder lost to second-ranked Ridgewater 3-1, as well as the St. Thomas University junior varsity team 14-2 in five innings. Add a pair of losses to Hibbing, Itasca and a five-inning win over Vermilion last Thursday and the Thunder is 1-5 on the year already.

"We gave up six unearned runs to Hibbing in our very first inning this year. We were nervous. But after that, we played extremely well."

Guiding the Thunder this year will be sophomore captains Engelmeier, Lisa Muehlberger of Duluth and Carlton's Holly Nelson. To Rodd, the trio of returnees will carry the load.

"Those three are going to have to lead us," he said. "For a lot of these kids, they've never played the college game before. And right now, we're still trying to figure out who can play at this level. Those three girls will be big."


One thing is certain, Youngberg, from Moose Lake-Willow River, is FDLTCC's top pitcher. From Rodd's point of view, she's coming along nicely already.

"She's got the potential to be a huge difference maker on this team," he said. "We've taught her so many things mechanically. She's got more movement and more speed already, it's incredible. She's throwing exceptionally well and will be our key."

Surrounding Youngberg will be a plethora of contributors. After more than two months of indoor practice in the gym, their outfield looks fast, infield seems solid and, according to Engelmeier, they have more depth at the pitching and catching positions.

"I think we're looking a lot better this year than last," said Engelmeier confidently.

Not to mention they have a possible All-American bat in Muehlberger.

"She's one of only two or three players that I get scared of batting when I'm coaching at third base," laughed Rodd of his right-handed slugger. "Lisa has the ability to hit the ball out of the park at any time. She has a legitimate shot at being an All-American this year."

Muehlberger hit for a .438 average last spring, cranked four homers and added in a boatload of doubles. Both she and Engelmeier led the Thunder in Rosemount. In fact, Muelberger's home run, .777 batting average and 15 innings fielding without an error earned her the Minnesota College Athletic Conference Northern Division Player of the Week honors.

Muehlberger said she's still trying to improve.


"I think I've improved all around since coming here," said Muehlberger, a graduate of Duluth Central who hit a homer last Thursday, "but I'm still learning how to wait longer, be more patient at the plate and hit balls up the middle."

Muehlberger, a third baseman, will be aided in the infield by AlBrook's Ariel Morris and Cloquet's Sanda. Muehlberger can also play first base, along with both Nelson and Cloquet's Monica Smith, a sophomore. Engelmeier is the foundation in the outfield, playing her centerfield position as well as anyone in the league.

"She can go get any ball out there," said Rodd.

Joining Rodd on the coaching staff is Steve Jezierski, Andrew Korby and former FDLTCC players Steph Engelmeier and Jenny Orn.

The Thunder finished 11-17 a year ago, and although they don't have the natural talent his historic 2009 state tournament team had two years back, Rodd is optimistic about this spring.

"Defensively I think we'll be a much improved team over a year ago," Rodd said. "A lot of these players we have were their high school team's best players. We have some talent; we just have to figure out where they all can play."

As for their current record, what happens in Rosemount doesn't matter.

"Those are all non-conference games. We want to win the conference games that follow," Rodd said, explaining the Thunder play Central Lakes, Hibbing and Itasca again Friday at the Dome.


"When you have a lot of freshmen you have a lot of question marks," Rodd continued. "We just want to improve. We don't want to regress."

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