For the second year in a row, the Marshall area was unable to produce a state tournament-bound softball team, but there were still plenty of highlights from area squads in 2012.
The Tracy-Milroy-Balaton Panthers were able to back up their turnaround season in 2011 with another strong campaign this year, finishing second in the Camden Conference and leading area teams in wins with a 15-6 overall record. Murray County Central was able to replace two Independent All-Area first-teamers from last year and still lead the area in scoring with the emergence of some talented underclassmen. And in its second year of existence, the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton softball team picked up its first two varsity wins in the program's history.
But the top storyline of the season came out of Cottonwood, where the Lakeview Lakers doubled their previous-best single-season win total and finished with a 14-8 record, coming up just one win shy of playing for the Section 3A championship after never having won a playoff game up until this year. As the top pitcher in the area, Lakeview senior and 2012 Independent Player of the Year Lyndsey Peterson capped her high school career with a season she'll surely remember for years to come.
The following players join Peterson as members of the Independent All-Area first and second teams:
- A dual threat at the plate and in the circle, Wabasso junior Kimberly Frank put herself at or near the top of the area leaderboards in multiple statistical categories in 2012 while helping the Rabbits to a 13-7 season. Frank piled up 45 hits in 76 at-bats for a .592 batting average, easily the best in the area. Frank also topped the area leaderboards in home runs (8) and RBIs (37).
Frank found the energy to dominate offensively while she was also serving as the Rabbits' starting pitcher and putting in 129 1/3 innings of work. She sported the third-lowest earned run average among area pitchers at 3.52 and had 112 strikeouts, the third-highest total in the area.
"Her pitching, of course, has come along a lot," Wabasso head coach John VanLoy said. "We worked some last summer on it and still have a little ways to go.
"Offensively, her slap-bunt hitting from the left side improved her batting average by 75 to 100 points. She's just a solid, solid player. If we had a team full of Kimberly Franks, we'd be set."
- An All-Area first-teamer last year, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton pitcher Jenny Welu took her game to an even higher level during her junior season. She lowered her ERA to 3.92 and raised her strikeout total to 122, the second-most in the area. She did so while walking just 30 batters during the year. Welu finished the season with a 14-6 record.
The Panthers depended on Welu for her pitching, but her hitting was also a key to the team's success. She batted for a .419 average with six doubles and 18 RBIs while earning All-Camden Conference accolades.
"She always keeps us in the game," TMB head coach Paul Skoglund said. "We had a handful of games where we gave up a few extra runs and her ERA suffered a little bit, but she didn't worry about that. We don't have to worry about her giving away many extra free passes or anything. She was just very steady for us. She's also one of our better hitters and just a solid team player."
- Shortstop Kate Johnston used her final year at TMB to rewrite the school's record books. She finished as the Panthers' all-time leader in doubles, RBI's, runs scored and stolen bases.
Batting leadoff for TMB, Johnston hit for a .397 average with seven doubles. She also scored 30 runs, drove in 21 runs and stole 14 bases. Johnston earned All-Camden Conference honors this year and was named to the Minnesota High School Softball Coaches All-State Academic Team.
"She's a four-year starter for us and has been just a solid defensive player every year," Skoglund said. "Certainly at the plate, she's put her name on top of a lot of categories for TMB softball.
"She's a smart player who understood the game and played hard. She was just a good senior leader for us this year."
- Murray County Central senior Makenzie Giese used a hot bat to help lead the Rebels to a second-place finish in the Red Rock Conference in 2012. Giese, who made the Class A All-State second team, was a force at the plate, leading the Rebels with a .419 batting average. She had four doubles, three triples and a home run.
Playing first base throughout the season, Giese had a .986 fielding percentage. When she was on the base paths on offense, she stole 12 bases on 12 attempts. As a team, MCC was a perfect 65 of 65 in stolen base attempts.
"She puts in extra time in the cage and is a good listener," said MCC head coach James Wajer of Giese, who raised her batting average more than 50 points from last season. "She makes adjustments, and when she's struggling she works that much harder to get better. That type of work ethic is what makes a good leader and the other players follow suit."
- On the roster it listed Jade Giese as a freshman, but the MCC center fielder played like a seasoned veteran for the Rebels in 2012. Taking over in center for two time Independent Player of the Year Elissa Reinsma, Giese posted a 1.000 fielding percentage with six assists. At the plate, she had a .416 batting average from the leadoff spot and had six doubles for the Marshall area's highest-scoring offense (9.4 runs per game).
Giese found her way around the base paths about as well as anyone in the area, scoring 37 runs (10 more than anyone else on her team) and stealing 16 bases on 16 attempts.
"Reinsma was a huge loss, but we've been grooming Jade to fill her spot," said Wajer, who added that Giese played the whole season on a broken foot. "A lot of the stuff she's doing now reminds me of [Reinsma]. I used to say Elissa could cover 70 percent of the outfield. Well, Jade's at about 60 percent and she still has a few years to go."
- Joining forces with Lyndsey Peterson in the heart of the Lakeview batting order, Lakers shortstop Sarah Berg had an explosive senior season at the plate in 2012. Berg led the Lakers with a .446 batting average and had a .781 slugging percentage. She also tied Peterson for the team lead with 25 RBIs.
Berg showed good speed after she made contact with the ball, hitting an area-best six triples and stealing a team-high 12 bases. Berg also had three homers during the season.
"Her batting came through so strong this year," Lakeview head coach Tony Johnson said. "Last year her average had jumped from her sophomore year, obviously, but this year, she just had that extra power in her bat. She had a lot of triples this year, a couple inside-the-park home runs, one over the fence against Edgerton. She just had a lot of extra pop in her bat this year."
- The Marshall softball team struggled to find its offense at times during the 2012 season, but junior Brooke Louwagie did her part to help the Tigers tack runs on the scoreboard. Louwagie, a member of the All-Southwest Conference team, batted .491 for the Tigers during the regular season and had four triples and six doubles while helping Marshall to a 6-15 record (4-8 SWC).
- Making her first appearance on the All-Area team, Dawson-Boyd's Kaitlin Johnshoy proved to be the Blackjacks' best player at finding a way on base this season. She had a .403 batting average and led the team with 16 walks. She had a .518 on-base percentage and scored a team-high 34 runs. Johnshoy also led the team in doubles (7) and triples (4).
"Kaitlin's not a big girl, she probably would be ideal in the leadoff or No. 2 spot, but we needed her for her power," Dawson-Boyd head coach John Nevins said. "She had quite a few extra-base hits and she did well on the bunts, too."
- Accounting for more than one-fourth of Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove's runs batted in, shortstop Klarissa Larsen was an offensive powerhouse for the Falcons during her senior season. Larsen, who batted for a .484 average, had 28 of her team's 105 RBIs this year and scored 28 runs, as well. Larsen showed a mix of power and speed for the Falcons. She belted five home runs and eight doubles, and also was second on the team with 10 stolen bases.
"Everything comes natural to her. She's just a natural in everything she does," RRC/WWG head coach Derek Stevenson said. "I think her biggest improvement this year was her clutch hitting. She came through with some big hits when we needed them."
- A steadying force behind the plate for a young pitching staff, Marshall senior catcher Kelli VanLeeuwe played a vital role with the Tigers this season. VanLeeuwe was also reliable in the batter's box, posting a .415 batting average in the regular season. She led the team with eight doubles and also posted team highs in RBIs (21) and stolen bases (13).
- Ricki Kallhoff makes her first appearance on the All-Area team following a standout sophomore campaign for Minneota/Canby/Lincoln HI. A shortstop for the Vikings, Kallhoff led M/C/L in nearly every offensive category in 2012, including batting average (.393), hits (22), RBIs (12), runs scored (15) and stolen bases (9). An All-Camden Conference selection, Kallhoff helped lead the Vikings to a 6-12 overall record and a 5-9 mark in the conference.
"She's very easy to work with and tries to do the things she needs to do to for her to improve," M/C/L head coach Jim Rolbiecki said. "She takes directions very well.
"She had the best statistics of anyone on the team for the whole year. She's a very capable player."
- Alexis Buysse joined Jenny Welu to form one of the most talented batteries in the area in 2012. The catcher led TMB with a .429 batting average and had a team-high 30 hits. A two-time All-Camden Conference selection, the junior had nine stole bases and 17 RBIs. Buysse helped the Panthers to 15 wins in 2012, which was the highest total of any area team.
"Alexis had a tender elbow for much of the season and worked through it," Skoglund said. "It really didn't affect her hitting at all and she was still making throws to second and working through the pain. And she calls a good game from behind the plate."
- An All-Area second-teamer as a freshman, Wabasso's Desi Kramer makes a return to the list after a standout junior season for the Rabbits. Kramer finished fourth in the area in RBIs (26) and tied for third in doubles (8). She posted a .393 batting average, a .529 on-base percentage and scored 19 runs, which tied for the second most on Wabasso's team.
"Desi moved from the outfield to first base for us and did a nice job there," VanLoy said. "We put her in the four hole and she's got a nice eye, doesn't strike out much.
"She's a good player in the infield and her spark on the bench is nice to see. She's always jawing on the bench and having a good time and that's something you need on a team."
- A key part of Wabasso's explosive offense (8.3 runs per game), junior shortstop Shawna Rogotzke batted for a .389 average and had the second most hits on the Rabbits' roster (28) behind Frank. An All-Tomahawk Conference selection in 2012, Rogotzke scored 19 runs, had 18 RBIs and hit four doubles for the Rabbits.
"Shawna worked really hard on her switch hitting and got way better at batting left-handed," VanLoy said. "And she improved defensively the most of anyone. She was able to field balls in the hole behind third and throw runners out going to first. She was really green when we put her there at short, but she really progressed well through the season and turned into a nice leader in the infield."
- Kenda Blomgren had big shoes to fill when she took over as MCC's catcher for former All-Area first-teamer Abby Van Meveren to start the season, but the sophomore quickly eased any concerns the Rebels may have had and went on to put together an impressive year. Blomgren hit for power and average from the No. 2 spot in the order, connecting for seven doubles, three triples and two homers while putting up a .389 batting average. Her 29 RBIs were nine more than the next-highest MCC player and put her second in the area standings in the category.
"Hitting and catching, she always plays hard," Wajer said. "What really surprised me about her was her ability to throw runners out.
"She a girl who works her tail off and wants to do whatever she can to get better. She never takes a play off."
- Dawson-Boyd catcher Justine Flattum solidified the top of the Blackjacks' batting order as one of the area's best hitters this season. Batting left-handed, the sophomore posted a .429 batting average and led the Blackjacks with 33 hits. Flattum scored 29 runs and was second on the team with five doubles.
"When we came into the season we had to replace Kelsey Jurgenson and we thought, 'Who's going to throw out runners?' Nevins said. "But Justine stepped in and was able to do throw out runners, and you need a catcher to be able to do that in our conference.
"She's just a good athlete, very fast. Possibly as fast as any kid in the area."
- Yellow Medicine East scored the fewest runs of any team in the West Central Conference South by more than a run, but junior pitcher Allie Trudel battled in the circle to help the Sting tie for the second-best record in the conference at 8-4. In 101 2/3 innings, Trudel posted a 4.34 ERA and struck out 75 batters. At the plate, Trudel led YME in RBIs with 13 and had an on-base percentage of .471.