The weather alone was enough to make 2013 a memorable season for Marshall-area softball teams, with the late departure of winter wreaking havoc on the first month of the season. But once games finally got rolling, players managed to find their swing and make some memories out on the field.
For some teams, it was the final go-around for large senior cores and they made the most of their last year with their programs. Since getting to state as freshmen in 2010, Wabasso's group of seniors wrapped up fine careers by advancing further in the playoffs than any other area team, making it within a game of playing for the Section 3A championship. Tracy-Milroy-Balaton also had a solid core of seniors move on after helping make their team one of the best in the Camden Conference over the past few seasons.
Other teams saw young players take a step forward in their development to help create solid foundations for their program. Along with having the Independent Player of the Year Brooke Louwagie put up numbers that nobody else in the area and few in the state could touch, the Marshall Tigers saw dramatic offensive improvement from a host of underclassmen and juniors while helping the squad double its win total from a season ago with a 12-10 record.
And a year after finishing as the runner-up in the Red Rock Conference, Murray County Central finished 2013 as the lone conference champion from the area after going 9-1 in Red Rock play.
The following players join Louwagie as members of this year's Independent All-Area softball teams.
- A standout for the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton Panthers her whole career, senior Jenny Welu finds her place on the Independent All-Area first team for the third straight season. Welu put up stellar numbers as a pitcher and a batter while helping lead the Panthers to a 16-8 overall record and an 11-5 mark in the Camden Conference, good enough for second place.
Welu pitched in all 24 games for the Panthers and posted a 3.92 ERA over 119 innings. She also struck out 89 batters and walked just 19. Welu gave herself plenty of help on the offensive end, as well. She batted .523 for the season with 34 hits and 20 RBIs. Eleven of her hits went for extra bases.
A five-year starter for TMB, Welu re-wrote the Panther softball record books. She finished her career No. 1 in school history in hits (111), doubles, (23), RBIs (70), strikeouts (336) and wins (45). She was a three-time all-conference player and earned academic All-State honors as a senior.
"Jenny didn't give up any free baserunners. She made them put the bat on the ball. She's very much a control pitcher and a workhorse for us," TMB head coach Paul Skoglund said. "She made the other team earn their runs.
"She's at the top of a lot of categories for us. Career stats are just that, you have to perform for a long time at a high level. There are some kids that come up and have a great year maybe, but she's been a very consistent performer."
- Courtney Paczkowski emerged as an offensive force for the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton in her freshman season and finished as one of the area's top hitters. The shortstop batted for a .413 average with 31 hits and 21 RBIs. In her 75 at-bats, she reached base more than half of the time with a .506 on-base percentage.
Paczkowski possesses a mix of power and speed. She had a .640 slugging percentage and set a school record with five triples that were among her 12 extra-base hits for the season. She also finished among the area's leaders in stolen bases with 12.
"We lost Kate Johnston, an honorable mention All-State player who was a four-year starter at shortstop, and so Courtney had big shoes to fill but she came in as a freshman and had an amazing season for any girl, but especially for a freshman," Skoglund said. "We hit her leadoff and she hit for average, she hit for power, she had a dozen stolen bases and played a great shortstop for us. She did everything we asked for and gave us extra."
- Four years as a high schooler and four years on the Independent All-Area first team for Wabasso's Kimberly Frank. Frank continued to show improvement in her game as a senior, especially as a pitcher. She led the area with a 2.25 ERA, which was better than a run less than her mark last year. Frank also led the area with 117 strikeouts.
Chosen as Wabasso's team MVP, Frank was also relied heavily upon on the offensive end. She led the squad with a .400 batting average and drove in 15 runs. She had two triples and two home runs to go with eight stolen bases. Rabbits' head coach John VanLoy said Frank's productivity from game to game had a huge impact on how the team fared.
"We went how Kimberly went. If Kimberly had a great day, we had a great day. If Kimberly struggled, we struggled," VanLoy said.
"Kimberly was a great leader on the ball team. She liked to take the weight, liked the limelight and did very good with it. She wanted to be the one with the ball. All in all, she was definitely a great senior leader."
- With just two seniors on the roster, the Dawson-Boyd softball team needed some of its younger players to step up to have success this season. Sophomore catcher Andrea Lee was one of the players to rise to the challenge and help lead the team to a 12-7 overall record and a 9-5 record in the Camden Conference.
Lee finished among the area leaders with a .438 batting average and 25 hits. When she got on base, she usually found her way home and scored 22 runs. She also had six doubles, a triple and a home run. Although she's a young player, Lee also showed the ability to raise her game when her team needed her to. She had three game-winning hits during the season.
"There were some games where we didn't play the best and we needed that big two-out hit," Dawson-Boyd head coach John Nevins said. "Three times in the last inning Andrea had game-winning hits, including the game-winning hit when we scored eight runs in the last inning to come back and beat BOLD in the playoffs."
- One of the fastest players in the area, Dawson-Boyd's Justine Flattum's final stats clearly show she used her talents to her advantage to help her team. The Blackjack junior topped the area leaderboard with 25 stolen bases and was fifth in the area with a .448 batting average.
When the shortstop found her way on base, she usually found a way to get to home plate as well. She ended the year with 26 hits and 27 runs scored.
"When she slaps it to the left side, she gets down the line pretty quick," Nevins said. "She continues to improve as a team player and as a junior she's kind of gotten to be our leader. She bats near the top of our order and the girls kind of look for her to get things going. She's got that ball sense. If she's on first and someone bunts she'll often times take third because she just has that sense on the bases."
- While Brooke Louwagie put up numbers that no one in the area could match, Marshall teammate Miranda Fischer had an impressive year in her own right and displayed a similar competitive spirit. The sophomore pitcher/third baseman put up an impressive .469 batting average in 81 at-bats. She was also sixth in the area in RBIs with 16 while batting near the top of the order and her eight doubles were second in the area behind Louwagie.
In her second season sharing pitching duties with Callie Graff, Fischer also made nice strides. She had a 7-3 record during the Tigers' 12-10 season, striking out 58 batters and limiting her walks to 29 over 67 innings of work. She also had a 6.47 ERA.
"She filled in the No. 2 spot in the lineup and became a two-strike hitter, which was great for us," Marshall head coach Jack Houseman said. "She was like Joe Mauer in that she was able to be patient at the plate and wait for that third strike to hit. She'd shorten up her stroke, choke up on the bat and delivered a number of big base hits for us. Her attitude was phenomenal, she threw well for us and she made some adjustments to be able to play third for us."
- Needing to replace two of the top offensive players in the area from last year in Lyndsey Peterson and Sarah Berg, the Lakeview Lakers' young team found a big spark at the plate in the form of junior Anissa Peppersack. The pitcher/third baseman hit for a .516 average, placing her third on the area leaderboard.
After splitting time between the varsity and junior varsity teams last year, Peppersack brought a veteran's presence to the batter's box her junior season. She led the Lakers with 14 RBIs, twice as many as anyone else on the team, and batted .688 with runners in scoring position. Her four doubles also led her squad.
"She really, really stroked the ball this year, just line drive bullets," Lakeview head coach Tony Johnson said. "She had no fear when she entered the batter's box. She knew what she wanted to do when she got in there and when she got a pitch she liked, she'd drill it. She really came on this year. Hopefully she can carry that on next year as a senior."
- After a breakout sophomore season in which she earned All-Area second team honors, Ricki Kallhoff makes her first appearance on the All-Area first team after a big junior campaign. A driving force behind Minneota/Canby/Lincoln HI's 9-6 season, Kallhoff was seventh in the area with a .432 batting average and led her team with 14 runs scored and 13 RBIs.
She showed power at the plate with five doubles and two home runs, and struck out just three times on the season. She was also dangerous on the base paths, swiping 14 steals to finish third in the area.
"She's just very consistent in regard to her execution," M/C/L head coach Jim Rolbiecki said. "If you look at her stats, she didn't strike out very often. She puts the bat on the ball and plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. And she's picking it up pretty good at short, too."
- TMB had one of the strongest batteries in the area with the combination of Jenny Welu and catcher Alexis Buysse. The pair worked together for hours in the offseason and the dedication clearly paid off as they each capped strong careers. Buysse had a .385 batting average in her final season, piling up 25 hits.
Buysse was able to provide the Panther offense with a bit of everything. She finished second on the team with 21 RBIs and showed her power with six doubles. She also got around the bases about as well as anyone in the area, finishing with 22 steals for a TMB single-season record. She finished her career third in school history in career steals (43), career hits (91) and career RBIs (77). A trait that doesn't show up on the stat sheet was her toughness, something her head coach said set her apart from many other players.
"We had a game where she got taken out at the plate and she was almost crying because I was taking her out since she got hit so hard," Skoglund said. "I look over to her the next inning and she has her gear on and says, 'Coach, I'm going in.' She's a super competitor, a super tough kid who loves to play the game and plays it hard."
- A five-year varsity player, Yellow Medicine East's Allie Trudel was a workhorse for the Sting her whole career. Trudel pitched nearly every inning for the Sting this season and posted 83 strikeouts. Her young team averaged just 4.4 runs per game on its way to a 4-12 record, but Trudel did her best to keep them in contention and had a 4.93 ERA.
Trudel was one of the bright spots for YME on offense this season. Her .362 batting average led the team. And her leadership extended beyond the numbers she produced.
"She's played such a main role on the team for five years and she's embraced that role so well," YME head coach Jen Sneller said. "She's done a great job of, this year especially, having the team bond together and play well together. She just did a great job of being that center of the team.
"She led by example, she pushed herself to be better and she's just a fun kid to be around."
- Shawna Rogotzke is back on the All-Area second team for the second straight year after providing a reliable bat near the top of the order and a sound glove at shortstop. Rogotzke was second on the team in batting average at .333. As a fast runner, Rogotzke hit from both sides of the plate and was especially adept at drag bunting from the left side.
Part of Wabasso's strong senior core, Rogotzke's attitude helped her raise her game as well as her team's.
"Shawna did great at shortstop and was steady with the bat," VanLoy said. "She's the type of girl who wanted to do things the right way and would ask you to show her things one more time. She loved the game of fastpitch. She tried hard, gave 100 percent all the time and was easy to coach."
- With two of the area's top hitters batting behind her, Callie Graff's responsibility was to get on base for Marshall from the leadoff spot and get moved around. That's precisely what she did, batting .400 for the season with nine walks. The sophomore also drove in nine runs herself and belted seven doubles. As a pitcher, she went 5-7 and tossed 60 innings.
"We changed some things last year on how she gripped the bat and she did a great job for us at leadoff," Houseman said. "It's nice to have a lineup where you don't have to question the top three spots. She got her swing down and had a little power to it, and she really learned to hit pitches on the outside corner."
- Minneota/Canby/Lincoln HI pitcher Kelsea Tolk didn't put up many flashy numbers during her senior season, but when she stepped into the circle, the Vikings always felt they had a chance to win. Tolk pitched 37 innings for the Vikings and posted a 6-2 record with a 5.30 ERA, which rose from 3.09 in the regular season after one rough outing against Redwood Valley in the playoffs.
Tolk pitched to contact and let her defense do the work. She recorded just 18 strikeouts for the season, but she walked only 10 batters and had four outings when she didn't walk anyone. Offensively, she batted .313 with four RBIs in limited plate appearances.
"Kelsea has been the backbone of the team, from a pitching standpoint, for the last four years," Rolbiecki said. "She's not overpowering, but she throws strikes. If we can play defense behind her then the odds are we probably win the game. You can't say enough about her. She's a very positive role model and team leader for the squad, even when things aren't going too good."
- While Tolk gave the Vikings a boost from the circle, Jessica Fox had a career year at the plate during her senior season for M/C/L. Fox was second on the team in batting average (.400) and RBIs (10) behind Kallhoff and struck out just four times on the season. The left fielder also stole six bases on the year.
"She really improved in her last year in the program," Rolbiecki said. "I think she started out kind of slow but then she kind of got on fire for a while. She was a pleasant surprise from the offensive standpoint."
- Dawson-Boyd's Sadie Zaiser was among the top pitchers in the area and was also handy with the bat during her junior season. Zaiser posted a 7-4 record and 4.59 ERA in 2013, recording 69 strikeouts in 61 innings. A switch hitter, Zaiser batted .360 with four doubles and scored 14 runs.
"If she's warmed up and ready to go and focused, she's pretty tough," Nevins said. "She's got a drop ball that's hard to hit.
"On offense, she's probably one of the best bunters in the area from the left-hand side. We always struggle if we should just bat her right all the time because she has good power, but batting left she's a very good bunter. The last two years I'd say she has at least 15 bunt singles."
- Amber Borstad was one of just two seniors on the Dawson-Boyd roster this season but she provided plenty of leadership in multiple ways. The second baseman was ninth in the area in batting average at .406 with 24 hits. She also scored 17 runs for the Blackjacks while providing a positive attitude that helped create a fun atmosphere on the team.
"She had an excellent season. She's a senior and has started the last three years and is probably the nicest kid on the team, so she was a co-captain," Nevins said. "She batted leadoff for us and is just a smart player, smart in school and smart in ball. She played second base for us and was real solid there, too."
- On a team with solid hitters throughout the lineup, TMB senior Galiya Bitton fulfilled her duty in the middle of the Panther order by bringing her teammates home. She finished second in the area with 22 RBIs and hit .343 in 70 at-bats. The three-year starter also had three triples. But what may have impressed her coach most about her play was her glove and her arm in right field.
"I would put her up against any right fielder," Skoglund said. "We don't keep stats on it, but she threw out a number of players at first base on what should have been base hits to right. She would come up and gun them out at first.
"Offensively, Galiya didn't strike out much. She put the bat on the ball. She was batting sixth and the girls ahead of her, they got on base and she drove them in."
Taylor Schreier, Murray County Central; Ashley Clarke, Murray County Central; Kristi Bose, Murray County Central; Jenna Stoneberg, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton; Sadie Zahrbock, Marshall.