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White counting on Braves to have successful season

     Bob White inherits a talented group as he takes over as head coach of the Menahga fastpitch softball team.

     The Braves return five letterwinners from last year’s team that went 5-7 for fourth place in the Park Region Conference and 7-10 overall in seniors Jenny Skoog, Joy Haataja and Savannah Kako and juniors Hannah Allebach and Jodi Skoog.

     Jenny Skoog led the Braves’ offense with a .429 batting average (24 for 56) while adding seven runs and eight RBI. Haataja hit .311 (19 for 61) with a team-leading 12 runs and added seven RBI. Kako hit .333 (6 for 18) with three RBI. Allebach batted .288 (15 for 52) with seven runs and seven RBI. Jodi Skoog hit .250 (5 for 20) with two runs and four RBI. Haataja will start at third base and could play some outfield, Allebach will start in center field and fill in at shortstop and Jodi Skoog will play second base and the outfield.

     Kako and Jenny Skoog return to lead the pitching staff. Kako went 2-4 with two saves in 23 innings while Skoog went 2-2 with 35 strikeouts in 42 innings. When not pitching, Skoog will play shortstop and Kako will play first base.

     Six spots will have to be replaced with the graduation of Samantha Acuff, Bradi Carlson, Morgan Clements, Tarah Cleveland, Erika Lopez and Maria Tormanen. Acuff hit .304 (17 for 56) with three runs and eight RBI as the starting catcher. Carlson batted .143 (5 for 35) with four runs and went 3-3 with 30 strikeouts in 46 innings on the mound. Clements batted .293 (17 for 58) with five runs and four RBI as a starting outfielder. Cleveland hit .233 (10 for 43) with seven runs, three RBI and 10 stolen bases as a starting outfielder. Lopez batted .189 (7 for 37) with five runs and four RBI at second base. Tormanen started at first base and hit .211 (12 for 57) with seven runs and three RBI.

     Looking to fill those spots will be junior Elyse Skoog (catcher); sophomores Kirsten Tolkkinen (first base/third base) and Danielle Novak (outfield/pitcher); and freshmen Alayna Lake (outfield/second base), Rachel Kicker (outfield/pitcher), Samantha Sabin (outfield/third base) and Mackenzie Kako (catcher/outfield).

     “After graduating a number of seniors off last year’s team, we are going to be very young in some positions,” said White, who will be assisted by Samantha Welter and Steve Bruer. “What I have seen so far, the girls have a love for the game. With that and the strong returning letterwinners we have, I’m hoping we will get stronger as the season goes on.”

     Last year, the Braves received the No. 4 seed in the north for the Section 6A playoffs and were eliminated with a 19-5 loss to No. 5 Lake Park-Audubon in the first round. New York Mills went 13-0 to win the conference title and went on to win the section title. White is hoping the Braves can play fundamentally sound softball and become a contender in the conference and section.

     “I think pitching and defense will be the keys. I’ve told the girls if we can make the simple plays and don’t make our pitcher throw extra pitches that we should have a chance to win every game,” said White. “New York Mills and Ottertail Central are always strong in the conference. New York Mills won the section last year, but they had to fight off a good Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale team. On any given day any team can beat another team. I think we will be strong enough to give them a run.”