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Softball preview: Favorites, teams to watch, rule changes

04/04/2017, 9:08pm CDT
By Star Tribune

Five things to watch as games get underway this spring.


Chanhassen players cheer during the state softball championship game last spring.

Is Chanhassen even better than last year?

The Storm won the first championship in program history when it took the Class 4A title last spring. After losing only two players from that team, there’s an enviable senior core in catcher Jessica Bren, second baseman Kali O’Keefe, shortstop/pitcher MaryBeth Olson and pitcher Taylor Manno. Toss in outfielder Alex Velazquez, a University of Minnesota recruit who sat out last year after transferring from Aurora, Colo., and it’s pretty clear Chanhassen is loaded.

Will Gabby Sprang spring forward this season?

Rosemount senior pitcher Gabby Sprang has been lauded as the next great softball pitcher to bloom in Minnesota since she committed to Tennessee as a freshman. The 6-foot lefthander has a laser for a fastball and a drop ball that drops jaws. She has yet to put together the type of dominant high school season we’ve seen from former Star Tribune metro players of the year Sydney Smith of Maple Grove and Kaitlyn Kemmet mueller of Rogers. Will this be the year Sprang rules from the rubber?

South metro superiority

Make no mistake, the metro is flush with good softball teams. But the concentration of top teams is greatest in the south metro. Sections 2 and 3 in Class 4A alone have as many as eight teams with serious state tournament dreams: Bloomington Jefferson, Chanhassen, Eagan, Eastview, Eden Prairie, Park of Cottage Grove, Prior Lake and Rosemount. And that doesn’t account for teams in smaller classes with high expectations, among them New Prague and Waconia (3A), Visitation (2A), and New Life Academy and Southwest Christian (1A).

On the way up

For some reason, Buffalo seems to get overlooked when talking about state tournament favorites, but the Bison’s run to a Class 4A runner-up finish last year was no fluke. Junior pitcher Morgan DeMarais has emerged and third baseman Emily Hansen is a future Gopher. ... New Prague (Class 3A) has a legit star in the making in sophomore pitcher Mia Kraimer. She pitched a no-hitter for her club team in the World Fastpitch Championships in July.

Rule changes

Two permanent and one experimental rule change will be noticeable this season. Following the precedent set in other sports, the Minnesota State High School League approved the seeding of teams in all four classes of state tournament play. Tournament coaches will conduct a seeding meeting before the state tournament to determine seeds one through five. The remaining three teams will have their quarterfinals opponent determined through a blind draw. There will also be a mercy rule enacted when a team trails by 15 or more runs after 3½ innings and has completed its last at-bat. This is in addition to the 10-run mercy rule after 4½ innings. Finally, teams across the country are experimenting with an on-deck circle rule in an effort to reduce foul-ball injuries. Batters must use the on-deck circle directly behind the batter, regardless of which side of the field it is on.

Jim Paulsen

Teams, Players To Watch

 

Pitchers

Katie Ahlstrom, Prior Lake, jr.

Taylor Bruun, Concordia Acad., jr.

Morgan DeMarais, Buffalo, jr.

Amber Elliott, Anoka, sr.

Grace Gall, Eastview, jr.

Sarah Johnson, Annandale, jr.

Ashley Mickschl, Woodbury, sr.

Haley Martinez, Bl. Jefferson, sr.

Hanna Mortenson, Park of Cottage Grove, sr.

Gabby Sprang, Rosemount, sr.

Halley Jones, Spring Lake Park, sr.

Afton Zemke, West Lutheran, so.

 

Position players

Jessica Bren, Chanhassen, C, sr.

Taylor Bross, Blaine, SS, sr.

Brittany Davis, Champ. Park, 3B, sr.

Emily Hansen, Buffalo, 3B, jr.

Tori Hanson, Delano, SS, sr.

Abby Lien, Eastview, C, jr.

Anne Miller, Bl. Jefferson, C, sr.

MaryBeth Olson, Chanhassen, SS, sr.

Megan Rubbelke, North St. Paul, 1B, sr.

Kati Waalk, Wayzata, OF, jr.

 

Top 10 teams

1. Chanhassen

2. Park of Cottage Grove

3. Buffalo

4. Anoka

5. Eastview

6. Bloomington Jefferson

7. Rosemount

8. Woodbury

9. Spring Lake Park

10. Forest Lake

10. Eagan

10. Prior Lake

 

Others

North St. Paul

Elk River

Holy Angels (3A)

Delano (3A)

Visitation (2A)

West Lutheran (1A)

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  • 07/25/2017, 4:15pm CDT , By Trevor Squire, SportsEngine
  • Four Chanhassen players made the all-state squads, with Jessica Bren and Marybeth Olson making the first team.
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Tag(s): Featured  Star Tribune  Gopher  Lake  Eden Prairie  New Life Academy  Southwest Christian  Bloomington Jefferson  Chanhassen  Buffalo  Rogers  Maple Grove  Prairie  Eagan  Eastview  Prior Lake  Rosemount  Park of Cottage Grove  Visitation  New Prague  Waconia