Intensity, enthusiasm carried Menahga softball team to state tournament

Courtney Burkman, Megan Cleveland, Hannah Dissmore and Rachael Bruer watched from the dugout as the Menahga fastpitch softball team was outscored 18-6 in two losses at the 2004 state Class A tournament.

Courtney Burkman, Megan Cleveland, Hannah Dissmore and Rachael Bruer watched from the dugout as the Menahga fastpitch softball team was outscored 18-6 in two losses at the 2004 state Class A tournament.

This year, that group is hoping to lead the Braves to their first win in the school's third appearance at the state tournament.

"I never played in the field," said Burkman about Menahga's last trip to state. "I had one at bat and I struck out. This year I hope we win at least one game."

The Braves qualified for this year's state tournament by winning the Section 6A title last Thursday at Menahga with a 10-6 win over Parkers Prairie and a 12-2 victory over New York Mills. Those victories gave Menahga its third Section 6A title and third trip to state. The Braves lost to Maple River 8-1 and Winona Cotter 10-0 at the 1998 state tournament and were defeated by Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley 6-2 and Bad-ger/Greenbush/Middle River 11-4 at the 2004 state tournament.

"Maybe teams will overlook us," said Menahga head coach Brian Carlson, whose team carried a 15-10 record into Thursday's first-round game against No. 1-ranked New Ulm Cathedral. "Hopefully we'll be relaxed. If we play with any energy and enthusiasm, we'll be fine."


It was energy and enthusiasm that sparked the Braves' trip back to state.

After struggling in the subsection tournament with a 2-1 win over Pillager and a 9-4 loss to New York Mills, the Braves refocused to win the section tournament by defeating Parkers Prairie and New York Mills.

During the regular season, the Braves split two close games with Parkers Prairie (losing 3-2 and winning 8-7) and went 2-1 in three close games against New York Mills (losing 5-4 and winning 6-3 and 6-4).

"I thought it could go either way," said Bruer. "We came out fired up. Our adrenaline was going. I was confident we'd go out and win."

"I was a little worried, but I knew we could beat them if we came to play," said Cleveland. "We weren't nervous at all. Once we got the lead, we built on it. We played with a lot of confidence."

"At the first day of practice we said we were going to state," said Burkman. "It was anybody's game, but I was very confident. Whoever came ready to play was going to win. We knew we had to play with intensity. When we're mentally focused, we can beat anyone."

"I knew we could win it," said Dissmore. "When we started getting some hits and got ahead, I knew we'd win. You could tell they (the Parkers Prairie and New York Mills players) were getting down."

"I was hoping we'd go to state," said Kari Johnson, who joins Burkman as the only seniors on the team. "It's pretty sweet to go my senior year."


Not only did the Braves defeat both Park Region Conference rivals, but they did it in a dominating fashion. In those two games, the Braves had 28 hits and scored 22 runs while committing only one error in the field.

"Our mental preparation for those two games was as good as it's been all season," said Carlson.

The Braves' mental approach to games this spring was inconsistent before the section semifinals.

Menahga opened the season by outscoring its first four opponents by a 42-5 margin.

Menahga then went into a slump, going 5-9 over its next 14 games.

The Braves turned things around down the stretch by ending the regular season with three wins and routing Nevis 24-0 in the first round of the playoffs before dominating Parkers Prairie and New York Mills in the section tournament.

"We started out good, had a rough part in the middle, but played good when we needed to win," said Dissmore.

"We came on strong at the end when it matters," said Bruer.


The Braves feature a young lineup with seniors Burkman and Johnson; juniors Cleveland, Dissmore, Bruer, Kendra Skoog and Brandi Leritz; sophomores Kati Neisess, Nina Johnson, Leann Bruer, Cassandra Carlson and Vanessa Burkman; freshman Katie Miller; and eighth grader Lindsey White comprising the roster.

The lineup that sent Menahga to state featured Burkman (9-4 record, 1.85 ERA) at pitcher; Rachael Bruer behind the plate; Neisess (first base), Leritz (second base), Cleveland (shortstop) and Dissmore (third base) in the infield; and Miller (left field), Leann Bruer (center field) and Kari Johnson (right field) in the outfield. Carlson (4-6 record) can also pitch.

Offensively the Braves will count on Cleveland (.384 average, 26 runs, 17 RBI, 10 stolen bases), Rachael Bruer (.273 average, 17 runs, 11 RBI), Dissmore (.365 average, 24 runs, 17 RBI, eight stolen bases), Courtney Burkman (.444 average, 14 runs, 25 RBI), Neisess (.299 average, 10 runs, 15 RBI), Kari Johnson (.299 average, 14 runs, four RBI), Leann Bruer (.348 average, nine runs, five RBI), Leritz (.259 average, 12 runs, eight RBI) and Miller (.276 average, 12 runs, eight RBI). Skoog, Carlson, Vanessa Burkman, Nina Johnson and White will serve as reserves and courtesy runners.

"Hopefully we'll play like we did last week," said Burkman.

"It's exciting," said Dissmore. "We won't be as nervous. Hopefully we'll do good."

"I think we'll do better than the teams in the past," said Rachael Bruer. "Hopefully it will be like (last) Thursday. We're confident we can win some games if everyone comes fired up and our bats come alive."

"Being there as an eighth grader was a lot of fun. We wanted to make it to state this year," said Cleveland. "We know we can play at that level. We just need to come ready to play."

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