Softball: New-look Tigers ‘sharpening the ax’The graduation losses of four all-conference seniors has left second-year head coach Rob Laden with plenty of spots to fill in his varsity lineup this season.
By: Matt Steichen, The Farmington Independent
The graduation losses of four all-conference seniors has left second-year head coach Rob Laden with plenty of spots to fill in his varsity lineup this season.
The Tigers return just one of their four infielders from last year’s team that finished 13-10 overall and placed third behind Prior Lake and Shakopee in the Missota Conference. Gone are all-state shortstop Sam Jensen, who hit .525 last year, as well as third baseman Megan Nekowitsch, a two-year starter, first-baseman Kelsey Betzold, an all-state honorable mention selection, and three-year starter Shannon Doherty.
“Some people are saying we have to rebuild this year. Looking at how hard the girls are working in the gym, I would rather say we are getting ready to reload,” Laden said. “We do have some good young athletes that are working hard to fill those spots.”
Laden will build his varsity roster around a nucleus of seven players who saw significant action last spring. Providing some stability will be the battery of pitcher Ashley Betzold and catcher Dani Muelken.
Betzold earned all 23 mound decisions last season as a freshman as she struck out 109 batters, walked just 26 and posted a 2.32 ERA in 151 innings. She also hit .275 with eight RBIs in 69 at bats.
Muelken, a senior, caught all 23 games last season and hit .235 with three extra-base hits and eight RBIs.
Laden said he’s also looking for leadership from returning starters Alyssa Hagen (infield) and Paige Lindrud (outfield). Hagen hit .209 last season and Lindrud hit .205.
Freshman Alyssa Kalmes (.245, seven runs scored), junior Taylor Haakana (.150) and junior Allie Rice (.179, HR) also saw some varsity time last season.
“I would anticipate they are hungry to take the next step this year,” Laden said.
The Tigers began practicing indoors Monday in the Boeckman Middle School gym. The regular season begins with a road game April 7 at Shakopee. Until then, Laden will continue to focus on fundamentals with his group of mostly inexperienced players.
“To get better, we have to work on the fundamentals and we need to do them over and over and over. With a young team we need to first master the fundamentals,” he said. “What did Abraham Lincoln say? Something like ‘If I was given eight hours to chop down a tree, I would spend seven hours sharpening my ax.’ We will be working on sharpening the ax.”