On their home field, shortstop Lindsey Sheehan fields a softball during practice. Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune
As the winningest pitcher in Shakopee softball history, senior Ashley Walker has an impressive resume since making the squad as an eighth-grader.
One thing missing from that resume, though, is a trip to the state tournament, which Shakopee hasn’t reached since 1980. The Sabers took home the last two Missota Conference titles, going 13-1 against the conference each time — and each time fell in the section playoffs.
This year, for Walker and her fellow seniors, it’s now or never.
“It’s really important,” Walker said of ending her high school career on a high note, “especially since almost all of our starters are seniors ... We all want that to happen.”
But what adjustments can a two-time defending conference champion returning almost all its key performers really make? The answer, senior shortstop Lindsey Sheehan said, is more about the team’s mindset than anything else.
This winter Sheehan encouraged teammates to attend non-mandatory practices, which she ran with fellow senior captains Walker, Amber Holmgren and Mollie Annen.
“We decided to have [the practices] because we have come so close in the past few years to going to state, but we haven’t quite made it there,” Sheehan said, “and we need that extra little push in order for us to go further than we have. … And I do think that it will help.”
At 3-0 heading into this week’s play, the Sabers have outscored opponents 32-3, with all three of those runs coming from New Prague in the second game.
Walker, the staff ace — she was 16-4 with a 0.59 ERA last year — started the first two games and dominated, fanning 12 batters in the first game and six in the second and allowing no earned runs in either.
Against Holy Angels in the third game, senior pitcher Alex Schewe stole the show with a two-hit shutout as the Sabers won 14-0.
“[Schewe] did wonderful. … We need more than just one pitcher,” Sheehan said.
Shakopee coach Neil Johnson, in his 36th season, said his team is a favorite to win its third straight conference title, but that it will be tested by Missota newcomers Chaska and Chanhassen. The Sabers faced each team once in nonconference play last year, losing to Chaska 7-2 and not finishing against Chanhassen due to lightning.
Johnson did not try to over-analyze the disappointing finishes to his team’s otherwise strong past two seasons.
“When you get to that section playoff, you’ve got to have a break here and there,” Johnson said, “and we weren’t getting any breaks against Mankato.”
Mankato West defeated the Sabers in the winners’ bracket each of the last two years. Johnson said his team’s depth and experience will hopefully help push it over the edge this season.
“The team, other than getting a year older, is basically the same as last year’s team,” Johnson said, later adding, “[the players have] just have to play relaxed. … Hopefully [they] won’t put so much pressure on themselves and will just go out and play the way they’re capable of playing.”
Andrew Baker is a U of M student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.
Ashley Walker has more victories than any pitcher in Shakopee history since making her debut as an eighthgrader. This year the senior is looking to get Shakopee to the state tournament for the first time since 1980. Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune