If the season comes down to pitching, as it so often does in fast-pitch softball, the Brainerd Warriors should be in the thick of the Section 8-3A race.
The Warriors, who open at home Tuesday against Moorhead, should have one of the best pitching staffs in the section with sophomore Nikki Anderson, junior Karlie Manton and sophomore Chelsie Manton.
Seniors Zoe Houle (left), Hallsey Olson, Kylee Kunde, Briley Johnson and Della Gramer worked on a defensive drill at practice last week.
Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey
Anderson burst on the scene as a freshman flame-thrower. In 118.1 innings, the all-conference left-hander struck out 169, walked only 17 and gave up 71 hits on her way to compiling a 14-5 record and 1.36 ERA.
Head coach: Mike Zauhar, 10th year
2009 record: 11-3 conference, 16-6 overall
Career record: 159-58 (.733)
Returning starters: Della Gramer (C), Hallsey Olson (CF), Jenni Smolke (1B), Ashley Tibbetts (2B), Nikki Anderson (P), Karlie Manton (P), Carlie Sweet (DH-1B-C)
Assistant coaches: Dan Bzdok, Amy Aho, Kevin Johnson
Volunteer coaches: Gary Jensen, Hilary Smith, Erin Donnelly.
April 6, Moorhead 4 p.m. (2)
April 13, at Alexandria 5 p.m.
April 15, Sartell 5 p.m.
April 20, at St. Cloud Apollo 5 p.m.
April 22, Alexandria 5 p.m.
April 24, at Detroit Lakes tournament 10 a.m.
April 27, Little Falls 5 p.m.
April 29, at Sauk Rapids 5 p.m.
May 4, Rocori 4 p.m. (2)
May 6, at Willmar 5 p.m.
May 7, Bemidji 5 p.m.
May 11, at St. Cloud Tech 4 p.m. (2)
May 13, Fergus Falls 5 p.m.
May 18, at Sartell 5 p.m.
May 20, St. Cloud Apollo 5 p.m.
May 26, Section 8-3A
May 31, Section 8-3A
June 2, Section 8-3A
June 3, Section 8-3A
June 10-11, State tournament, Caswell Park, North MankatoBackground
"Nikki had a breakout year," Warriors coach Mike Zauhar said. "She's got that whip. She throws so doggone hard it dips. Her control is unbelievable."
Karlie Manton pitched 30.2 innings with a 2-1 record and 2.28 ERA. She allowed 21 hits, walked nine and struck out 34. Manton may also see action at third base.
"Karlie started last year with mono, that set her back," Zauhar said. "This year she's healthy."
Chelsie Manton, a sophomore, pitched for the junior varsity.
The Warriors return five position players, and are solid defensively up the middle with four seniors - catcher Della Gramer, Ashley Tibbitts at second base, Zoe Houle at shortstop and Hallsey Olson in center field.
Gramer, voted the team's most valuable player last season, batted .213 with five RBIs, two doubles and a triple.
"She's doing a nice job behind the plate," Zauhar said. "Della has a great arm. We're expecting nice things from her on the offensive end as well."
Olson, a two-time all-conference selection, led the team in hits (26), runs (17) and batting average (.394).
"Hallsey has great speed," Zauhar said. "She covers a lot of territory, defensively, and has a nice arm. Last year she was a leadoff threat with her bunting ability. Once she got on the sacks she was a threat to steal constantly. This year she's started where she left off last year."
Senior right fielder Kylee Kunde is a captain, along with Gramer and Olson.
"Kylee played a lot of ball last summer," Zauhar said. "She's been with our program it seems like forever. She has a good arm, a good bat, and nice quickness."
Junior first baseman Jenni Smolke batted .273 with four doubles, four triples and 16 RBIs.
"Jenni has a tremendous glove," Zauhar said. "She helps us out, not only with her fielding ability, but her catching ability on errant throws. She led the team in doubles and triples. She's a tremendous talent. She swings an aggressive bat."
Tibbitts batted .350 with two doubles and two triples and drove in 11 runs.
"Ashley has a great glove at second base," Zauhar said. "We play (Smolke and Tibbitts) on the right side because of our pitchers' speed. We saw that last year, that most teams have a tendency to swing late. That's why we've got those two stuck over there, and they didn't disappoint us."
Houle, who played three varsity games last season, will be the starter at shortstop.
"Zoe had a nice year on the JV," Zauhar said. "She also had a nice tennis year. Last year we recognized her defensive ability was very good, and she hasn't disappointed us in that regard this year. She's also swinging a nice bat."
Junior Carlie Sweet batted .172 in 29 varsity at bats with a double and three RBIs. She will be the designated hitter, and can play first base and catch.
"Carlie's improved her defensive ability," Zauhar said, "and she's extremely strong at the plate swinging the bat."
The starter in left field will be junior Shalene Cole.
"She's kind of a lefty slapper," Zauhar said. "She swings a nice bat from the left side and has decent speed.
"We moved her from the infield to the outfield last year and she responded very well. I know she was disappointed to be moved out of the infield but now she's landed a starting job in the outfield. She's been in the weight room, and put in a lot of time in the summer."
Sophomore Nikki DeChaine is in the picture at third base, along with Karlie Manton.
In Zauhar's nine seasons as coach the Warriors have averaged almost 18 wins a season overall with a conference mark of 99-27 (.786).
"It seems in the last six to eight years we don't rebuild, we reload," Zauhar said. "We're to a point now, overall, where we're winning over 70 percent of our games. That's a mark of a successful program.
"In the last seven or eight years we've won the CLC outright or were second. We're always a threat in the postseason. The program is very healthy. Our expectations are very high. That's where you want them to be."
Seniors: Hallsey Olson, OF; Kylee Kunde, OF; Della Gramer, C; Ashley Tibbitts, IF; Briley Johnson, OF; Zoe Houle, IF
Juniors: Karlie Manton, P; Jenni Smolke, IF; Trisha Kramer, OF; Alanna Hanson, OF; Shalene Cole, OF; Chelsey Hanson, IF; Carlie Sweet, IF; Alyssa Thoennes, IF
Sophomores: Nikki DeChaine, C; Chelsie Manton, P; Nikki Anderson, P
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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