Softball: Pepin came up one game shy of state last season; Bombers usher in new head coachThe Cannon Falls softball team begins play Thursday against Kasson-Mantorville and Pepin/Alma will begin April 12 against Glenwood City in Glenwood City. Here’s a look at the upcoming season for both teams.
By: Nick Gerhardt, The Republican Eagle
The Cannon Falls softball team begins play Thursday against Kasson-Mantorville and Pepin/Alma will begin April 12 against Glenwood City in Glenwood City. Here’s a look at the upcoming season for both teams.
Last year’s record: 21-3, 15-1 Dunn-St. Croix
Key returning players: Ali Murray, Tasha Heit, Breanna Ellison, Mikayla Dusak, Sophia Reidt, Katie Kujak
Key losses: Brianna Kircher
Pepin softball has become a pillar of excellency through the past 20 years and now it co-op with Alma for the first time this season after a deep playoff run last year.
Pepin went 21-3 and 15-1 in the conference last season and advanced to the sectional title game. The Lakers fell 2-1 to Highland and finished a game shy of the state tournament. It would have been Pepin’s sixth trip overall and first since 2005 had the Lakers won the game.
That experience has surely stuck in the minds of the players for the upcoming season and head coach Matt Bellerive said the group has high goals for this season.
“Everyone wants it just a little more,” Bellerive said. “Their eyeballs are focused on one thing and that's to get to Madison.”
Pepin/Alma begins in a good place to reach that goal. Nine of the 10 players from last year’s Pepin squad return. Since the co-op, the team has gone from just 10 players for Pepin last season to 24 overall.
Pitcher Breanna Ellison and shortstop Ali Murray represent two key contributors for the newly formed Eagles. Ellison hit .284 with six home runs and 16 RBI last year. Ellison broke the career record for home runs last season as a sophomore. Murray hit .430 with 24 RBI, 12 doubles and five triples. Murray set the career record for doubles last year as a sophomore.
Center fielder Tasha Heit strengthened the lineup more for Pepin, which hit .354 as a team, with a .434 average and a .614 slugging average.
Heit drove in 21 runs.
“We do a pretty good job with a program, but we're just blessed with some pretty good hitters,” Bellerive said.
That lineup figures to be bolstered with the addition of Alma’s Sophia Reidt and Katie Kujak, both of whom played in the summer with the Pepin players.
The two schools have combined for girls basketball for the last three years and there is some familiarity for the players, but Bellerive still feels one of his biggest jobs is to get the team to coalese.
“These guys are as talented as any team that's ever been here,” Bellerive said. “My job will be just to get them to gel together.”
Ellison took over pitching duties last season after Micky Duskey broke her wrist. Ellison finished with a 17-2 record, a 1.95 ERA, and 89 strikeouts. Bellerive expects to use both this season as Duskey has recovered from her injury.
“(Ellison) did a lot of work in the offseason, which she hasn't done in the past,” Bellrive said. “She's putting the work into it. We're looking for a little more out of her.”
One area of concern with Ellison has been walks. Last season she surrendered 69 walks in 136 1/3 innings.
Cannon Falls Bombers
Last year’s record: 12-11 overall, 5-8 HVL Blue Key returning players: Amanda Woodward, Erica Zimmerman, Megan Ripley, Lydia Franken
Key losses: Kayln Reinardy
Michael Gunderson takes over this season as the Cannon Falls softball coach after a 12-11 season from the Bombers and a loss to section champion Zumbrota-Mazeppa in the second round of the section playoffs.
Pitching will be key for Cannon Falls and Gunderson believes the team has some depth there with senior Megan Ripley and sophomores Carly Broze and Lydia Franken.
Senior Amanda Woodward will anchor the infield from shortstop and Erica Zimmerman will also return to the infield.
Pitching and defense will be the team’s strengths this season, Gunderson said. But the team will have to work at having confidence at the plate, he added.
“We will run when we can and bunt when we have to,” Gunderson said. “I think other teams will see a very consistent defensive team to play.” against.”