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2011 softball season preview

By Brian Stensaas, Star Tribune, 04/08/11, 1:49PM CDT


Four story lines and the top Metro players to watch this year

Burnsville catcher Maggie Dunsmore let her mask and helmet fly as she and her teammates celebrated their 3-2 victory over North St. Paul and the Class 3A softball championship on Friday at Caswell Park in North Mankato. Burnsville also won the title in 20

Extra 3 feet is A game-changer

Increasing the pitching distance from 40 feet to 43 feet is hardly a surprise for this softball season. The decision by the National Federation of State High School Associations is a few years in the making after high schools in Florida and Oregon experimented with the change and found a better balance between offense and pitching. Moreover, summer softball elite leagues have been using the longer distance for years. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to take some getting used to as teams begin their varsity seasons. “This is probably the biggest change in the sport,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Adrian Wagner said. “It’s like adding a fifth down in football or raising the basketball hoop 6 inches.”

A change of 3 feet might not sound like much, but Wagner said he’s already seen a difference in the eight scrimmages the Red Knights have had. “I’m going to have to change how I manage the game,” he said. “It’s about 8 percent [farther], but that gives hitters and pitchers that much more time to do stuff.” In addition to batters having an additional split second to react, baserunners get more time to steal. It’s also likely to cut down on injuries. “I’ve seen two pitchers taken away” in the past, said Wagner, in his sixth year at BSM. “It will change things.”

Bring back double elimination?

Wagner, who is the president of the Softball Coaches Association, said directors from his sport and baseball have drafted a letter to be sent to the MSHSL asking for double elimination to return to section tournaments. A rule put in place last season got rid of double elimination until the final four round. It’s a move that has drawn critics because sections have up to 21 teams, and one bad, weather-plagued game by a highly ranked club can end a season.

“We’ve come up with some rationale that is … cost-effective,” Wagner said. “Hopefully it can get passed.” Also, Wagner said there is a push to make fences mandatory at all fields by 2013, thus eliminating home runs for a solidly hit ball down the line.

Round, round robin

Once again, teams in the five-school Lake Conference will play each other three times during the regular season. It eliminates expensive travel costs, and the 12-game head-to-head schedule is more ideal. “Eight games wasn’t enough,” Hopkins coach Anne Campbell said. “We like the three-game series [with each team] that results in a battle till the end.”

Strong again

Defending Class 3A state champion Burnsville should be among the elite again. The Blaze returns standout pitcher Kelsey Anderson (22-3, 0.39 ERA, 303 strikeouts, 13 shutouts), who threw a pair of no-hitters in the state tournament a year ago. They also get Lauren Smith back full time at second base. A varsity player since seventh grade, Smith tore her ACL last year but was back in time to get the game-winning RBI in the state quarterfinals. She is a career .300 hitter.

Metro Players to Watch

Kelsey Anderson, P, Burnsville, sr.
Ashley Walker, P, Shakopee, sr.
Hayley Nybo, C, Hopkins, sr.
Carley Pickett, P, North St. Paul, jr.
Meg DuPuis, IF, Wayzata, sr.
Sam LaShomb, IF, South St. Paul, jr.
Brenna Walek, IF, Cooper, jr.
Nikki Frogner, IF, Providence Academy, sr.
Rebekah Schmidt, P, New Life Academy, sr.
Maddie Eckstrom, P, Stillwater, sr.

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