SPORTS PREVIEW: Determined softball girls set sights high

The Rangers lost just three players from the program's 2013 state-qualifying team. (Photo courtesy of Stan Waldhauser)

The Rangers lost just three players from the program’s 2013 state-qualifying team. (Photo courtesy of Stan Waldhauser)

 

New alignment places reigning state champs in FL’s section

 

Seniors Taylor Shortly, Rachel Baniecke, Rachael Harrington, Alexa Bremer, Natalie Wright and Taylor Emly are six of eight senior leaders on the squad. Not pictured: Mikayla Watters and Jenny Bracht. (Photo by Kat Ladwig)

Seniors Taylor Shortly, Rachel Baniecke, Rachael Harrington, Alexa Bremer, Natalie Wright and Taylor Emly are six of eight senior leaders on the squad. Not pictured: Mikayla Watters and Jenny Bracht. (Photo by Kat Ladwig)

Kat Ladwig
Sports Editor

Forest Lake head softball coach Angie Ryan’s expectations for the 2014 season are clear: win the Suburban East Conference championship, win the Section 7AAA championship and take home the state title.

The Rangers were close last year, losing just three times all season. Two defeats were in double-headers during a tight, weather-affected schedule, and one came in the postseason to eventual state champion Elk River.

Forest Lake may have graduated three stars in Dana Mogren (now playing at Mankato State), Michelle LaCasse and Jenn Zidar, but they have more than enough ammo to propel themselves back into state contention, starting with some key returners.

Senior Natalie Wright earned first team all-state honors last season at second base while hitting for a resounding .449 batting average and averaging .573 runs per plate appearance. The infielder will move from second base to anchor the infield at shortstop this season before heading off on a softball scholarship to play at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall.

“She’ll do an amazing job at shortstop,” Ryan said. “Even with Dana gone, we have no worries with Natalie moving over to shortstop. She’s started for us since she was a freshman.”

Another star slugger for the Rangers is senior Mikayla Watters, who is going on to play for the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire next year. She was named to the all-tournament team at state in 2013 with a batting average of .463 and a .738 slugging percentage, and will show off a strong arm from left field.

Senior Alexa Bremer returns to the hot corner at third base, where she had a fielding percentage of .987 last season. The infielder earned all-state honorable mention after recording a .461 batting average and .618 slugging percentage. Ryan called Bremer “the best third basemen I’ve coached in 10 years.” Bremer will play softball at St. Scholastica in 2014-15.

Senior Taylor Shortly is yet another Ranger to be named to the all-tournament team at state in 2013. The first basemen, who is headed to play at Gustavus Adolphus College to pursue her talents in tennis, recorded a .375 batting average, .405 on-base percentage and .989 fielding percentage.

On the mound this year will be senior Rachael Harrington, a force who was suppressed last year due to injury. She returns alongside junior Halley Osdick. Freshman Amanda Gemuenden will also see time in the pitching rotation.

Junior Kaylynn Tilton, a versatile utility player, will see time at second base this year, while junior Bailey Armstrong hopes to complete a full season after missing part of 2013 to injury. In 38 plate appearances last year, Armstrong batted .444.

Senior Taylor Emly will anchor the outfield in center field with her quick feet and range, while junior Chase Shortly is set at catcher with a strong arm and nimble movement. Junior Katherine Watson is expected to cover right field and contribute as a power hitter at the plate.

“I think our only one question mark would be our battery,” Ryan said. “I wouldn’t say a weakness but (we) need pitching and catching to really come together, since we lost our No. 1 pitcher and No. 1 catcher last year.”

A hurdle in the Rangers’ quest for the state title is the recent realignment of Section 7AAA, which now includes the reigning champion Elks. Elk River replaced Blaine in the section realignment.

“The section changes every two years, so now I guess Elk River is with us,” Ryan said. “Our goal is still to win conference, section and state.”

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