by Bob San
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
When asked what expectations the Maple Grove softball team has for this season, senior centerfielder and captain Abby Bunnell said simply: “High.”
Bunnell’s response seems natural because when you wear a softball jersey with Crimson on the front, expectations will be high. Since 2006, Maple Grove has made the state tournament three times (2006, 2010 and 2012), and was the state runner-up in 2006 and 2012.
“I think at Maple Grove we are kind of used to that spot now,” 12-year Crimson head coach Jim Koltes said. “Everybody expects us at least to contend for the conference and section titles and contend for the state title. We have earned that. We have proven that. Over the years we have been to the state tournament three times and we have won the conference a few times and we are always right there at the end. We have earned that and with that you have to go prove that every year.”
The Crimson are coming off an almost perfect season. Led by Player of the Year pitcher Cayli Sadler, they were ranked No. 1 in the state, won the conference and section and made it to the state championship game where they lost to Stillwater. Falling just short of the ultimate goal will be a motivation for this year’s Crimson.
“It’s definitely a motivation because we got so close with the great seniors that we had,” senior second base and captain Taylor Bratten said. “Now we will try to be leaders instead of looking up to people. So as long as we can lead the younger kids and have good communication on the field we should be able to get back to state.”
Maple Grove will be a contender again this season. The Crimson lost some key seniors on last year’s 24-3 team, including Sadler, but return many talented players. Leading the way are senior captains Bunnell, Bratten, Breanna Besel and junior captain Jordan Mauch.
Bunnell, who is committed to St. Cloud State University, is an on-base machine who led Maple Grove last season with a .440 batting average, a .472 on base percentage and 28 runs scored. She was all conference, was selected to the all-state tournament team and was all-state honorable mention.
Bratten is a four-year starter at second base and started in two state tournaments. She was an all-conference selection.
Besel, a three-year starter in the outfield, will take over shortstop this year. She hit .311 last season.
Mauch, a junior who has attracted attention from many Div. II schools, will be the catcher this year. She batted .375 with 14 RBI and six double and was an all-conference selection last spring.
Another key returning player is sophomore pitcher Sydney Smith. One of the most sought after pitchers in the state, Smith already committed to Louisiana State University on a full scholarship. Last season Smith pitched 18 innings and recorded 23 strikeouts and a 1.02 ERA. She also played first base and DH and hit .333 with five doubles and 12 RBIs. She was all conference honorable mention and was picked to the all-state tournament squad.
The Crimson welcome several newcomers who will fill the spots vacated by the graduated seniors.
Senior Michelle Gorsette, who played three years of junior varsity, will take over first base. Sophomore Sammi Sadler, an outstanding hitter who was on the state roster last year, will be in right field. Sophomore Sarah Michal, who possesses outstanding bat and glove and speed, will be at third base. Sophomore Madison Gordan, a solid slap hitter who has outstanding speed, will play in the outfield.
With a solid nucleus of talented veterans and newcomers, the Crimson are confident they can continue to be successful.
“It will be a good season,” Besel said. “We did have a few players move last year but we still have a lot of talents in our program so we should not be any less talented than we were last year. We still have all the skills we need to win.”
“We have a really good program so it’s all about building up and working on team work and playing together,” Bratten said. “As long as we do that we should have a successful season.”
Koltes, who has compiled a 178-81 record and led Maple Grove to three state appearances, agrees that this team has the talent to go far.
“We should contend for the conference title as well as the section title and we can compete with the top teams in the state if we stay healthy,” he said. “We are strong up the middle at catcher, pitcher, second base, shortstop and centerfield, which is what you need in high school softball. We have better team speed this year than last. Our line up should be consistent 1-9 in hitting and our team defense should be solid. Our corner infield spots have talented kids that can play the positions but they are untested at the varsity level but we should be fine. We will get better as the year goes on with all aspects of the game.”
Maple Grove is scheduled to open the season Wednesday, April 10, at Coon Rapids and open their home schedule Thursday, April 11, against Champlin Park.
Contact Bob San at [email protected]