Area softball: Return of six starters provides experience for Northome-Kelliher
NORTHOME — The Northome-Kelliher softball team will return just one senior, shortstop Kelly Heck, but among the cast are six players who started a year ago.
Heck is expected play shortstop and she will be among a group of infielders who have taken the field at the varsity level for multiple years.
Pitching for the Mustangs will be juniors Bree Lindley and Jackie Pierson, who are both beginning their third years on the Mustangs’ mound. Heck could also see duty as a pitcher.
“Especially during seasons like last year and this year when we have to cram our games into a short window of time due to the late spring,” coach Matt Hanson said.
Hanson noted that weak spots for the Mustangs won’t be nearly as troublesome as they have been in previous years due to the amount of the experience on the team. The outfield will consist of some inexperienced players and lack of varsity experience could also surface at that plate.
The varsity roster will consist of Heck, juniors Lindley, Pierson, Bre Salmonson, Teresa Weidenborner, Shannon Head and Shaunte Strong, sophomores Xenia Hillman and Sierra Heck, freshman Alyssa Fisher and eighth-graders Brandy Hensch and Laechen Wagner.
Hanson said that Heck, Pierson, Lindley and Salmonson batted over .300 last year. He also noted that the starting lineup is still up in the air for the Mustangs.
“It’s tough to fairly judge outfielders until we can get outside and with a roster of only 12 girls they will all see significant playing time,” Hanson said.
Still hopeful of improvements, Hanson expects the team to content for the Upper Mississippi Conference title this season.
“Last year, we missed winning the north half of the conference by just one game and with so many returning players at key spots I feel we’re poised for a great season,” Hanson said.
The Mustangs originally were set to play Nevis for their home opener on April 8, but the game was canceled due to weather conditions.
A game is scheduled for Monday, April 14 in Pine River-Backus and a new home opener for the Mustangs is scheduled to be held at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday against Walker-Hackensack-Akeley.
The Blackduck softball team is seeing a year much like the last: Two returning seniors, similar goals and a late start to the season due to weather. However, one new component would be its new coach, Sheena Reese.
“I’m excited about it,” Reese said. “It’s a good group of girls to work with.”
This will be the team’s second year in the Upper Mississippi Conference and this year the Drakes are battling for a conference championship and aiming to make it into the state tournament. A small initial goal for the Drakes is to finish above .500, according to Reese.
The Drakes two returning seniors are pitcher Taylor Levy and third baseman Sadie Radke. According to Reese, the two have been phenomenal leaders thus far and will also be team captains along with senior outfielder Shelby Sorheim.
Juniors Alex Arp, Kristina Isham and Meghanne Nattrass will also be on the varsity roster along with sophomores Breanna Enger, Ceana Olson, Charli Shocker, Kara Draeger and Sydnie Sorheim. Freshmen on the team will include Brandi Kilde, Lindsey Schuh, Farah McElmury, Michaela Sparby. Also making the varsity is eighth-grader Char Kohman.
“The girls are willing to help each other and take criticism to better themselves,” Reese said of this year’s team. She also noted that the Drakes have many quick runners this year and hopes that will lead to more stolen bases.
So far, a lineup hasn’t been solidified as Reese said a few new players are being worked into the mix.
Reese hopes to increase consistency with back-up pitchers as the season goes on since the Drakes will lose senior pitcher Levy to graduation in the spring.
“We need to build the program with more pitchers who can throw accurate balls,” Reese said.
The Drakes have had their first two games of the season canceled due to weather. They were supposed to play on Tuesday at home against Pine River but the game has been rescheduled for May 12, and Thursday’s game against Walker-Hackensack-Akeley has been rescheduled for May 13.
A home opener for the Drakes is scheduled for April 15 against Laporte but Reese said that it is tentative due to, once again, the weather.
In 2013, the Drakes ended the season 9-7, winning the first game of the Section 8A tournament against RLCC and then suffering two losses to Red Lake Falls and Lake of the Woods.
Among the deans of the area softball coaching staffs is Rod Benson of Cass Lake-Bena. The veteran in the dugout begins his 25th season as the Panthers’ varsity coach and he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
“I still enjoy the competition and the contact with the area coaches, players and fans,” Benson said. “Everyone I meet is a big part of why I still enjoy coaching.”
This year’s squad returns eight letterwinners and Benson is counting on that experience to lead CL-B.
“We should be okay this spring,” the coach said. “We have four seniors who should lead us and we picked up two other seniors. They know the game and I’m looking for them to set the pace and carry their experience to the younger players.
“But we also have some younger kids who have played at the varsity level.”
The senior cast includes Brandi Dahmen, Janelle Peacock, Leigh-Anne Swan, Tori Foster, Kayla Madigan and Kelsey Burns.
Dahmen and Madigan are experienced pitchers while Peacock and Foster handle the catching chores.
“We have two senior pitchers and two senior catchers and that’s where it all starts,” Benson said.
The roster does not include any juniors but the sophomores are Danica Staples, Sheila DeVault and Sonia Lucio while the large freshmen contingent includes Apache Thompson, Madison Schmid, Hope Liesener, Larissa Dunn, Sydney Foster, Emily Dahmen, Becca Busick, Alysha Brown and Anevay Keezer.
Completing the early-season roster is seventh grader Tehya Losh.
“Every area team is tougher every year and that is good for the game,” Benson said. “Like any team, we need to keep our focus, concentrate and make the routine plays. If we do that we’ll do fine.”
The Flyers are scheduled to open their season Saturday at Park Rapids along with Pine River, Nevis, Sebeka, Norman County and the host team.
The home opener will be Monday against Frazee.
Bagley’s roster includes seniors Ellen Ramsrud (pitcher), Emily Goodwin (outfield), Haley VantHul (infield), Kari Skersick (infield), Laura Rasmussen (outfield) and Sara Titera (outfield).
The junior cast includes Bailey Gerbracht (infield), Courtney Fultz (pitcher), Lacey Gubrud (infield), Marye Carlson (catcher), Resia Hromidko (pitcher), Riley Thoma (infield) and Sara Holm (infield).
Completing the early-season roster is sophomore Liz Anderson (infield).
The Warriors are young as the roster includes no seniors, four juniors and five sophomores. Completing the roster are two freshmen, a pair of eighth graders plus a seventh grade student and two sixth graders.
The junior cast includes Brianna Strong, Kennedy Barrett, Seleasha Roy and Val Donnell while the sophomores are Averi Holthusen, Cathleen Nelson, Saylyn Johnson, Sydney Beaulieu and Tracey Cook.
Aubrey Graves and Grace White are the freshmen.
Red Lake is scheduled to visit Nevis today.
The Wildcats hope to begin their season today at home with a doubleheader against Cass Lake-Bena. The early portion of the schedule also includes Monday’s twinbill at Indus and Tuesday’s game at Blackduck.