FAST-PITCH SOFTBALL: Warriors have shot at two threepeats
With one of the state’s top pitchers standing 43 feet from home plate, the Brainerd Warriors have a shot to make it three straight Central Lakes Conference and three straight Section 8-3A championships this season.
Senior left-hander Nikki Anderson, who has signed to play for the University of Minnesota, has smashed about every school pitching record imaginable. In 2011, she compiled a 21-2 record with nine shutouts and a 0.344 ERA while opponents batted a miniscule .121 against her. She walked just 10 in 122 innings and struck out 170.
“I’m sure everyone in the conference and in the section is pointing at Brainerd,” Warriors coach Mike Zauhar said, “but what people don’t understand is we lost 12 outstanding seniors from last year. Replacing those people will be very difficult, but with our returning people, and our younger kids, we feel confident we will put a competitive team on the field.”
In three varsity seasons, Anderson owns school records for wins (51), strikeouts (547) and ERA (0.724). In 374.2 innings, she has allowed just 165 hits, issued only 39 walks and has twirled 24 shutouts. She throws six pitches — fastball, drop, off-speed drop, curve, rise and changeup.
“Every record we’ve kept for the last 12 years she owns,” Zauhar said. “She’s the premier pitcher that we’ve had in my 12-year tenure as softball coach. We look for her to have an outstanding senior year. Hopefully, she will lead us so that we’re competitive in the conference race and section race.”
Other returning letterwinners include Chelsie Manton (OF-P), Hannah Kangas (OF-INF), Nikki DeChaine (C-3B) and Bailey O’Hotto (OF).
Manton did not pitch in 2011 but started at shortstop and hit .260 with eight RBIs.
“Chelsie’s really worked on her pitching,” Zauhar said. “She’s gotten faster. Her control is great. We’re looking to hopefully give her a number of innings.”
Kangas batted .296 with four RBIs and a double. DeChaine played in two games last season and O’Hotto in nine.
A position by position look at the Warriors:
• Catching: DeChaine, Zauhar said, “had some great years on the junior varsity. She’s paid her dues. Now that she’s a senior, she’s ready to take hold of that position.
“She’s also been working at third base and doing extremely well there. That’s where she worked the last couple years. At either spot she’s a valuable addition to the team.”
• Third base: Kangas was a two-year starter in the outfield. She also has taken reps at second base. Junior Jackie Caughey is also working at third base.
• Shortstop: Zauhar said the team “needed a hole filled at shortstop and Chelsie did a remarkable job last year. She’s a kid we can put wherever we need her.”
Sophomore Maria West is also getting reps at short.
• Second base: Sophomore Sara Wennerstrand is in the running to start. “She’s a very good fielder,” Zauhar said. “She has great skills. We’re also looking at her catching some innings. She’s an outstanding player.”
First base: Senior Paige Lothert and junior Mikaela Chandler are vying to start.
Left field: Senior Erica Trafas, sophomore Courtney O’Hotto and Lothert may see action.
Center field: Bailey O’Hotto or Manton will play center.
Right field: Senior Kaitlyn Bible is the starter.
Designated hitter: Lothert and Salyna Murray are the leading candidates to DH.
Offensively, Zauhar believes the Warriors will present a different look this year.
“We’re looking at more of a bunting and running game,” he said. “We do have better team speed than we’ve had in the past. That should be exciting to watch.
“Defensively, we’re going to be steady, but it’s going to be hard to duplicate last year. We were just outstanding at a number of positions last year, but with a lot of work hopefully we’ll be steady.”
• Brainerd is 42-6 overall the last two seasons.
Nikki Anderson, P, Sr
Kaitlyn Bible, OF, 12
Jackie Caughey, OF, Jr
Mikaela Chandler, IF, Jr
Nikki DeChaine, C, Sr
Hannah Kangas, IF, Jr
Paige Lothert, IF, Sr
Chelsie Manton, OF, Sr
Salyna Murray, IF, Jr
Bailey O’Hotto, OF, Soph
Courtney O’Hotto, OF, Soph
Erica Trafas, OF, Sr
Sara Wennerstrand, C, Soph
Maria West, IF, Soph