Cody Pulju inherited a young lineup in his first season as the head coach of the Menahga fastpitch softball team.
Only four players returned who saw extensive action as the Braves went 5-9 in Park Region Conference play and 8-12 overall in 2019. That group featured Rachel Marjamaa, Jadeyn Dissmore, Allie Pfeifer and Aili Anderson. Taking over starting spots and providing depth on the varsity this season were Michaela Skoog, Joie Koll, Timbr Berttunen, Lela Peterson, Leah Weaver, Molly Hendrickson, Journie Schoon, Janelle Hendrickson, Anna Pietila and Erica Johnson.
That group led the Braves to a 6-8 record for sixth place in the Park Region Conference standings and a 7-14 overall record.
Menahga opened the season with a conference doubleheader loss to New York Mills by scores of 4-2 and 9-7 and a 27-1 loss to Lake Park-Audubon. After sweeping Wadena-Deer Creek by scores of 14-10 and 11-3 in a conference doubleheader, Menahga split conference games with Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale (following a 15-11 win with a 13-3 loss).
Losses to East Polk (5-0) and Parkers Prairie (15-0 and 6-2 in a conference doubleheader) were followed with a conference split with Sebeka as the Braves won the first game 4-1 and lost the second game 15-5. Menahga ended the regular season by going 2-5 in the final seven games with a 5-3 loss to Pelican Rapids, a 20-1 win over Nevis, a conference split with Ottertail Central (following a 7-5 win with a 10-0 loss), a loss to Frazee (10-0), a pair of Park Region Conference losses to Pillager (9-0 and 12-1) and a loss to BHV (6-4).
For the Section 8AA tournament, the Braves received the No. 8 seed in the South and were eliminated with a 9-7 loss to No. 9 OTC. Hawley defeated Pequot Lakes 8-7 in the Section 8AA championship game.
Menahga ended the season averaging 5.5 runs a game while allowing 8.5 runs a game. The Braves had a team batting average of .270 and a team ERA of 5.14.
“The season went very well. We had a young, inexperienced team that showed great growth throughout the season,” said Pulju. “As the year went on, our pitching staff really improved and our team defense ended up being solid by the end of the year.”
Leading the Braves were Koll, Anderson and Skoog. Koll and Anderson earned Park Region Conference honors while Skoog received all-conference honorable mention consideration.
Koll handled most of the pitching duties this season, going 4-7 with a 4.17 ERA in 15 appearances. Koll allowed 83 runs (48 earned) on 61 hits and 60 walks with 52 strikeouts in 80.2 innings. At the plate, Koll batted .310 (18 for 58 with two doubles) with nine runs and nine RBI in 21 games. Anderson batted .328 (21 for 54, including six doubles and two home runs) with eight runs and a team-leading 13 RBI in 20 games. Skoog played in all 21 games and hit .339 (20 for 59, including three doubles and a home run) with 11 runs and 11 RBI.
Berttunen and Molly Hendrickson also played in all 21 games. Berttunen hit .291 (16 for 55, including two doubles, one triple and one home run) with a team-high 18 runs scored and nine RBI while Hendrickson had a .218 average (12 for 55, including two doubles) with 16 runs scored and two RBI.
Janelle Hendrickson played in 20 games, batting .192 (10 for 52) with 16 runs scored and five RBI. Weaver played in 18 games and hit .238 (10 for 42, including two doubles) with four runs and four RBI and went 0-1 on the mound in three appearances. Dissmore played in 17 games and had a .304 batting average (14 for 46, including two doubles and a triple) with eight RBI and seven runs while going 1-1 in three pitching appearances, allowing 16 runs (10 earned) on six hits and 11 walks with 10 strikeouts in 11.1 innings for a 6.18 ERA. Schoon played in 12 games and hit .200 (4 for 20) with three runs. Marjamaa played in 10 games and hit .296 (8 for 27, including a double) with two runs and three RBI and went 2-5 on the mound, allowing 50 runs (29 earned) on 43 hits and 16 walks while striking out 25 in 30.1 innings and seven appearances for a 6.69 ERA. Peterson played in 10 games and hit .250 (7 for 28, including a double) with eight RBI and seven runs. Pietila played in 10 games and hit .143 (2 for 14) with three runs and two RBI.
Also contributing for the Braves this season were Pfeifer (3 for 8 with a double and two runs) in four games) and Johnson (one run in eight games).
Pulju is counting on this year of experience to lead the Braves to even more success next spring.
“We came into this year young, without any experience,” said Pulju. “Next spring, we will again be young, but will now have valuable experience to build from.”