Clint’s Call: Unblemished Rangers have more than talent
Intangibles drive softball team, seniors say
The softball team’s 15-0 start has not come out of the blue. We’re talking about a program that has taken part in the last four state tournaments, placing second last spring.
Buried under that success, though, is the curious fact that Forest Lake won the Suburban East Conference title just once in that span, and that was a shared trophy.
This spring, the Rangers have clinched their first outright conference championship since 1990, and they have done so with three games to spare. Granted, the SEC is a little down this year. Defending state champion Hastings is almost unrecognizable with a 6-9 record, and No. 2 Forest Lake is the lone SEC school in the Minnesota Fastpitch Coaches’ Association rankings.
Still, 15-0 is 15-0. The Rangers survived several early-season nailbiters, but other than an extra-inning game at second-place Mounds View last week, they have been winning with ease of late. Most impressive of all, the program’s four teams are a combined 48-1 this spring, with the only loss coming when the ninth-grade squad fell to North St. Paul’s junior varsity.
Expectations were sky-high coming into the season, and rightly so. I expected the Rangers to be deeper than ever. However, I would not have argued this year’s roster to be more talented than any of the past few.
The girls may be proving me wrong. Speedy outfielder Natalie Wright has transformed from a light-hitting defensive specialist to a spark plug atop the lineup. The sophomore has taken quickly to her new left-handed slapper role and is second on the team with a batting average of .392. Junior catcher Jenn Zidar has gone from pinch-hitter to a star clean-up hitter and is batting .408 with 15 RBI. As expected, ninth-grader Emily Lindstrom has added another dangerous bat to the lineup. The outfielder is hitting .316 and is fourth on the team in RBI.
Add that new firepower to the likes of all-state second baseman Shannon Nelson, all-conference third baseman Dana Mogren and honorable mention all-conference outfield Mikayla Watters and you have a lineup without an easy out. On Monday, Andrea Mogren was batting at the bottom of the lineup and she is a reigning honorable mention all-conference selection who is batting over .300.
On the mound the emergence of junior Michelle LaCasse has given the Rangers a nice 1-2 punch along with senior Micah McGuiness. Each pitcher boasts an ERA safely under 2.00.
So there is no question that talent abounds and is a key ingredient to the team’s undefeated status three-quarters of the way through the regular season. When asked to pinpoint how they’ve survived 15 games without a blemish, though, the team’s four seniors – McGuiness, Nelson, Andrea Mogren and Maggie Forsell – credit something entirely separate.
“It’s not just what we can do physically,” says McGuiness. “We learn how to pick each other up and just always stay up and positive, basically.”
It’s the intangibles that make the difference. Composure. Competitiveness. Heart. It’s just “all there” this year, the four captains say.
“We’ve been playing together forever,” says Forsell. “We just know how each other works and it’s really nice to have that bond.”
Tons of credit goes to head coach Angie Ryan, a member of the 2000 state runner-up Ranger team. She has the team ready to go not only every game but it seems in every situation. The players are essentially extensions of the coaching staff.
Are they aware of the perfect record? Of course, but they don’t dwell on it. Do they feel snubbed having been ranked behind Bloomington Jefferson and North St. Paul? Not really.
Though it would’ve been justified, there was no big celebration when the team clinched the conference title. No, it’s one game at a time for these Rangers. So far, that means one loss at a time for everyone else.