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Menahga seeking another state trip tourney

Brian Carlson likes the chances of the Menahga fastpitch softball team returning to the state Class A tournament. Last season the Braves entered the Section 6A playoffs with an 11-9 record before going 4-1 in the section tournament to qualify for...

Brian Carlson likes the chances of the Menahga fastpitch softball team returning to the state Class A tournament.

Last season the Braves entered the Section 6A playoffs with an 11-9 record before going 4-1 in the section tournament to qualify for state. A 10-6 win over Parkers Prairie and a 12-2 victory over New York Mills sent Menahga to state, where losses to New Ulm Cathedral (12-0 in six innings) and Sleepy Eye St. Mary's (5-1) capped off a 15-12 season.

With eight players returning from last year's state team, Carlson is counting on the Braves to challenge defending champion Ottertail Central for the Park Region Conference title and repeat as section champs.

Leading the Braves this season are seniors Rachael Bruer, Megan Cleveland, Hannah Dissmore and Brandi Leritz; juniors Cassandra Carlson, Leana Bruer and Katie Neisess; and sophomore Katie Miller.

Rounding out the varsity roster are juniors Vanessa Burkman, Paige Tomperi and Shayla Stomberg; and freshmen Amelia Pho and Lindsey White.

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Defensively, the Braves return Neisess at first base, Leritz at second base, Cleveland at shortstop, Dissmore at third base, Rachael Bruer at catcher, Miller in left field, Leana Bruer in center field and Carlson at pitcher. Carlson went 4-6 with 40 strikeout and 68 hits in 63 innings last season while Dissmore had a 2-0 record with 12 strikeouts and 20 hits in 23 innings.

White and Pho will pitch and vie for the starting job in right field. Burkman and Tomperi will also compete for playing time in the outfield while Stomberg will serve as a back-up at second base. Those players will look to fill in for starting pitcher Courtney Burkman (who went 9-6 on the mound and hit .430 with 25 RBI) and right fielder Kari Johnson (who hit .282).

"Our pitchers are ready to step in. We need them to throw strikes," said Carlson. "Our infield will be tough with everyone back. We have a senior-dominated infield. They're going to help our pitchers out a lot."

Offensively, Carlson is looking for the Braves to be more explosive after averaging six runs a game last season. However, against the better teams, Menahga scored two runs or less eight times.

Sparking the offense will be Cleveland (.372 average, 26 runs, 17 RBI, 10 stolen bases last season), Rachael Bruer (.278 average, 17 runs, 11 RBI), Dissmore (.338 average, 25 runs, 17 RBI, eight stolen bases), Neisess (.304 average, 10 runs, 16 RBI), Leana Bruer (.346 average, nine runs, five RBI), Leritz (.238 average, 12 runs, eight RBI), Miller (.263 average, 12 runs, eight RBI), Burkman (.353 average, 10 runs, five stolen bases), Carlson (.176 average) and White (.200 average).

Of that group, Cleveland (32), Neisess (28), Dissmore (27), Miller (21), Rachael Bruer (20) and Leritz (15) led the team in hits.

"We're counting on our seniors at the top of the order to score more runs for us," said Carlson.

The Braves should be considered one of the teams to beat in the subsection. The other subsection teams are Cass Lake-Bena, Hawley, Lake Park-Audubon, Laporte, Nevis, Pillager, Pine River-Backus, Sebeka and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley. In the other half of the section are Ashby, Bertha-Hewitt, Brandon-Evansville, Eagle Valley, Fergus Falls Hillcrest, New York Mills, Parkers Prairie, Verndale and West Central.

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"Our goals are to win the conference and get back to state," said Carlson.

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