By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
One year removed from its second losing season in three years, the St. Michael-Albertville softball team is hoping the experience of eight seniors can bring them back to their winning ways.
After a promising start which saw them win 5 of their first 8 games, STMA went on to post a record of 4-9 to finish last season with a record of 9-12 overall.
The Knights are looking to erase a disappointing year which ended a year ago with a 10-0 loss in the Section 5AAA playoffs to Coon Rapids.
“We had our ups and downs a year ago,” said STMA head coach Kellie Shumway. “We had games where we played great. Then we had games that were totally unexpected of us.”
The Knights will rely heavily on the battery connection of senior starting pitcher Alex Berg and senior catcher Bianca Zins. Both players earned all-conference honors a year ago.
Zins earned the team’s Rookie of the Year honor after she finished tied for the team lead with 15 RBI’s. She was also second in hits (29) tied for first in home runs (1) and batted .387.
Berg – a five-year varsity letter winner – will look to become the ace of the pitching staff. Torey Malerich pitched in 17 games a year ago and finished the year strong, earning a spot on the all-section team. Berg compiled an impressive 4-0 record and 0.91 ERA in seven starts a year ago.
“I trained a lot with my dad in the winter and worked with pitching coaches,” said Berg, who also was a leader offensively. She finished among the team leaders with 13 RBI’s and a .328 average. “I’m really excited to get going. I think we’re going to do very well this year.”
“Alex is a great kid,” Shumway said. “I think this year she understands what her role is and she’s the type that will step to the plate and get the job done.”
As well as improved pitching, Shumway points to their overall team defense and team speed as this year’s possible upgrades.
A year ago the Knights committed 48 errors as a team, including five in a 10-0 section playoff loss which led to seven unearned runs against the Cardinals, which ultimately ended their season.
Some new faces the Knights will turn to are freshman outfielder Tia Zachman, sophomore infielder Ashley Stecker and junior outfielder Courtney Schoen.
“Zachman and Schoen will both help us in the outfield,” Shumway said. “They will be three new faces that are all really fast.”
Senior Erin Schindler will also return to the outfield. Schindler is coming off a career year which saw her bat .389 with 29 hits and 11 runs scored. She also earned the honor as Ms. Defense, which goes to the team’s best defensive player. Sophomore Taylor Zopfi will also play some outfield.
Both Zins and Stecker will take turns at catcher. Senior’s Breanna Hagerty, Sam Heskin, Shelby Larson, Paige Burditt, Courtney Hanson and Kaisa Rova all saw varsity action a year ago in the infield.
STMA looks to replace last year’s leading hitter at third base in Kelsey Blank. Blank led the Knights with a .493 average, 15 RBI’s and 35 hits. Hagerty will start at first base with Heskin starting at second. The other spots will be decided as the season goes forward.
Also, fighting for spots will be sophomore Krista Slavin and junior Meagan Ghinter. The Knights look to replace Blank, Malerich and Samatha Kunde.
“We want to be conference champs,” Berg said. “My four years I’ve played, we’ve only made it to the second round and lost. We want to make it past the second round of sections. That’s our goal.”
STMA opens the season with a pair of road games, Thursday at Rogers and Friday at Delano. Both games are slated to begin at 4:30 p.m.